There are stickers on plastic bottles, plastic cups, and other dishes that proudly proclaim, “No BPA.” Sometimes, it’s even stamped into the bottom of the dish.
If you’re a parent or have bought products for young people, you’re probably well aware of the message. You probably look for it! And if you pick up a plastic something without this stamp of approval, you put it back without a second thought.
Why? Bisphenol A – famously known as BPA – is a chemical that’s been used in hard plastics and metal containers for over 50 years. It’s also harmful. It gets into our bodies and is linked with developmental, behavioral and reproductive problems in youth, and to cancers in everyone. Most recently, it’s been linked to childhood obesity, insulin resistance and an increased risk developing asthma, and noted as a possible cause of undescended testicles.
Because of its risks, you’d be hard-pressed to find a baby’s bottle made from the noxious chemical anymore. As of last summer (July 17, 2012, to be exact), the FDA banned its use in all baby bottles and sippy cups. It’s still around in plenty of other products, though – including some dental materials.
Specifically, it can be found in some brands of composite resin, which is used both as a sealant and filling material. Consequently, you sometimes hear pro-amalgam dentists offer this as a reason to stick with mercury – a known neurotoxin. (So-called “silver” amalgam fillings are actually 50% mercury.)
So is it really a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils?
Not once you recognize one very simple fact: All amalgam contains mercury; not all resins contain BPA.
Avoiding the use of potentially hazardous materials is one of the hallmarks of biological dentistry. Instead of just using whatever is cheapest or most convenient or easiest to work with, we make a point of choosing only biocompatible materials. By its very nature, BPA is not biocompatible – just as mercury is not biocompatible.
BPA-free resins have other advantages beyond their being nontoxic. For one, they look better, being tooth-colored and metal-free. Composite fillings also protect the natural integrity of the original tooth because less drilling is needed to prepare it for restoration. Adding strength is the fact that these fillings bond to the teeth.
Even so, some will continue to argue for amalgam because they’re cheaper – and because they’re much less technique-sensitive than composite, a dentist can place them faster, seeing more patients in a workday.
But are they really that much cheaper? Not once you factor in all costs. According to the paper “The Real Cost of Dental Mercury,” once you account for the cost of keeping mercury out of the environment and the benefits to health and society from using nontoxic alternatives, those “cheap” amalgam fillings actually cost anywhere from $60 to $128 more per tooth than “expensive” composite.
Clearly, adverse effects on the environment and society over the whole life cycle of dental amalgam – mercury production, preparation of filling materials, removal of old fillings and placement of new ones, environmental and health impacts from mercury recycling, discharges to wastewater, solid waste disposal, emissions from crematoria and releases from cemeteries – can only be sustainably avoided by phasing out amalgam as a dental restorative material and switching to mercury-free alternatives. Since high quality and cost-effective alternatives – including composites, glass ionomers and “compomers” – are readily available. . .dental amalgam should be phased out.
Dentists who champion amalgam fillings by raising the specter of BPA are, in the words of Dr. Michael D. Flemming, “confusing safety with effectiveness.” Such arguments, he adds, “only serve to further cloud the issues and hamper the development of a comprehensible policy on amalgam use.”
If you need to have a tooth filled, talk to your provider about the best options for you. Of course, the best thing to do is avoid cavities in the first place by maintaining good oral health by regular brushing and flossing and eating whole foods that promote overall health.
BPA label image by Mark Morgan, via Flickr