By: Michelle Alford for Dental1
Tom McGuire, D.D.S., has been a mercury-free and mercury-safe dentist for over 30 years. He received his BS at San Francisco State University and his DDS at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry, San Francisco.
Dr. McGuire founded the Dental Wellness Institute in 1997 with the goal of bridging the gap between the dental and medical professions. In 2004 he formed the International Association of Mercury Safe Dentists (IAMSD) to support mercury-safe dentistry and to provide a more effective way for patients to find dentists who have made a commitment to practicing mercury-free and mercury-safe dentistry. In 2009 he co-founded New Directions Dentistry, LLC with Dr. Paul Rubin. New Direction Dentistry educates dental professionals about how to Minimize Occupational Exposure to Mercury at the Dental Office and practice Mercury Safe Dentistry.
Other books he’s written include bestsellers The Tooth Trip and Tooth Fitness: Your Guide to Healthy Teeth, as well as his newest book Healthy Teeth - Healthy Body: How to Improve Your Oral and Overall Health. His books have been published in Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands. He has appeared on national television, and many popular magazines and newspapers have carried articles on him, including Newsweek, Time, Business Week, Medical World, Esquire, Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, Prevention Magazine, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Dr. McGuire first became concerned with the effects of mercury in the early 70s: “
The more I learned about mercury, the more I didn’t think it belonged anywhere close to the body, let alone in teeth,” explains Dr. McGuire.
Mercury has been used in amalgam (silver) dental fillings for over 150 years. First introduced in 1826, the formula for amalgam fillings has changed many times over the years but mercury has consistently been one of the main ingredients, with approximately 50% being mercury. Though controversy over the use of mercury has continued since its inception, the American Dental Association (ADA) attests that amalgam fillings have no negative effects on health.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one amalgam filling contains enough mercury to poison a 10 acre lake.
Now that better filling materials are available, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have banned the use of amalgam fillings to prevent further damage to the environment. “Every industry that uses mercury in the United States is monitored and regulated by the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
,” comments Dr. McGuire, “but dentistry as a whole uses more mercury than any other industry.” A 2003 study funded by the ADA estimated that 50% of mercury entering wastewater treatment plants was contributed by dental offices.
There is still controversy surrounding whether having mercury amalgam fillings is dangerous. “It’s up to each individual whether he or she wants to remove his or her amalgam fillings,” remarks Dr. McGuire. “While I believe these fillings contribute to health problems, I’m also conscious of the continuing debate. However, I don’t think there’s any debate that amalgam waste is bad for the environment and that unsafely removing amalgam fillings is a bad idea for everyone in the dental office.”
Recent research suggests that the removal of amalgam fillings releases a dangerous vapor.
This mercury vapor released from amalgam fillings can create a hazardous work environment for those who are regularly around dental work involving them. “Studies have shown that dentists and dental assistants have elevated levels of mercury,” explains Dr. McGuire. “They've also shown that dentists have a higher incidence of tremors, memory disturbances, nervous disorders, emotional changes, insomnia, and headaches than the general population. Female dentists and dental assistants have shown a higher incidence of aborted pregnancies and a higher rate of birth defects with their offspring than the general population.”
Mercury-free is not the same as mercury-safe.
“There are two issues. One is whether or not having amalgam fillings is unsafe. That’s still being debated. The other is what is the safest way to remove amalgam fillings if that’s what the patient chooses to do. Many dentists who don’t use amalgam fillings and advertise themselves as mercury-free still don’t use safe procedures for removing amalgam fillings.”
The internet is increasing advocacy against the use of amalgam fillings. “Prior to the internet, the ADA pretty much controlled the media,” states Dr. McGuire. “If someone came out and said these aren’t safe, the ADA put out a press release saying that they are. Now anyone can search the internet for the information. Those against mercury amalgams and promoting their safe removal have a stronghold on the internet.”
Although newer composite fillings are as functional and safer, amalgam fillings continue to be used because they are less expensive.
Composite fillings can be 50% to 100% more expensive than amalgam fillings. “But when considering the possible benefits to patient health, employee health, and the environment, I think they’re worth the extra money,” comments Dr. McGuire.
Visit Dr. McGuire at his website
Learn more about why and how to practice mercury safe dentistry and minimize occupational exposure to mercury in the dental office
A “Mercury-Safe” Dentist Finder