What’s In Your Mouth? Know Your Dental Work

dental labRecently, the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dental lab work in your mouth. They encourage you to know where your lab work was done, by whom, and what materials were used.

When it comes to dentistry, the right to know what’s in your mouth has been a hard fought battle. Biological dentists have been at the front line, perhaps most famously in opposition to mercury amalgam “silver” fillings. Now, as ever more people strive to be their own health care advocate, we all recognize that good decisions can only be made better with full disclosure.

If mercury taught us anything, it taught us anything that isn’t of your body has the potential to cause harm. Mercury taught us to be ultra-selective about all dental materials, including composites. Some are better and safer than others. All outgas chemical components, some at much higher rates than others. Some contain hormone disrupters like BPA. Some release fluoride.

Biological dentists look at everything through the lens of biocompatibility. When restoring teeth, we favor those materials that are biocompatible for most of our clients. When sensitivities are a special concern, we do testing to make sure we only use materials that the patient is not apt to be reactive to.

But not all restorations are made in-office. Most dentists have outside labs make the crowns, bridges, and other devices their patients need. Though you may never see the technicians who created your dental work, you wear it every day. Sadly, it can sometimes be a very heavy load to carry.

  • In 2008, an Ohio woman’s bridge, made in a lab in China, was tested and found to contain high levels of lead. Additional crowns were then ordered from Chinese labs and tested. Some were found to contain 490 ppm of lead. Though this concentration level is almost five times higher than the 100 ppm set for children’s toys by the CPSC, neither the ADA nor CDC nor FDA issued a consumer update.

  • In 2009, Australia targeted ceramic covered crowns and bridges from overseas laboratories when they were found to contain toxic heavy metals like lead, nickel, cadmium, and beryllium. All of these metals are banned in Australian-made restorations due to their carcinogenic properties.

Outsourcing dental lab procedures is the result of a global economy. Many dental offices use overseas labs just like they once used the lab across town. So why switch? As patients expressed concerns about the cost of restorations, many offices looked for ways to keep prices down. Ordering lab work from overseas is one way to accomplish that.

For many people, price is a key factor in getting dental treatment. Unfortunately for some, cheap dental work may mean many people are walking around with crowns and bridges made with cheap and toxic heavy metals. It is a high price to pay for a low cost.

The solution? Get comfortable asking questions. We know asking questions can be a little scary, yet questions are critically important.

If you’re concerned about those old crowns, bridges, and devices lingering in the dark cavity of your mouth, check out the NADL website. You’ll find a host of information on regulations, standards, transparency, safety issues, and the role a dental lab and its technicians play in your oral healthcare.

Then bring your questions to your next appointment. We support your right to know what’s In your mouth.

Image by Stian Olsen, via Flickr