Topics in dentistry

FDA Warning About Mercury (Amalgam) Fillings


Polls show that most Americans are not aware of risks posed by mercury in amalgam fillings. Straits Area Dental is pleased to note that we have not used these types of fillings in over ten years. This article discusses the FDA's advice about using mercury in dental fillings.


FDA Warning About Mercury (Amalgam) Fillings

August 13, 2009


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a new regulation today calling for special controls on the placement of mercury tooth fillings. Until now, dentists who used amalgam have not had to disclose the type of materials used in dental fillings or advise patients, and particularly sensitive populations, of its use.


The ruling results from a lawsuit settled last year by the plaintiffs in the case of Moms Against Mercury v. Von Eschenbach. The settlement required FDA to withdraw claims of amalgam's safety from its web site and reclassify its use by July 28, 2009.


"After 32 years of delays, FDA finally warned Americans about neurotoxic effects from amalgam to the nervous systems of developing children and fetus," said Michael Bender, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and director of the Mercury Policy Project. "This breakthrough corresponds to the one in 2004 when FDA first warned pregnant women and children to limit consumption of certain tuna."


As reflected in the May 2008 court transcripts, Judge Ellen Huvelle stated that the "...probability of harm is enormous," and asked the FDA: "How could you drag your feet for 32 years? Do what you are supposed to do." Judge Huvelle also said that she couldn't ". . .order a ban, but can compel to act," observing that this was "government at its worst" and that she wanted this "public safety issue to be resolved." (See link to court transcript at the end of release.)


As part of the settlement, FDA agreed to change its website -- dramatically. In addition to recognizing that amalgam contains a neurotoxin that may present a risk to children, the FDA website now says, for example, that: "Some other countries follow a "precautionary principle" and avoid the use of dental amalgam in pregnant women."


These warnings are similar to those from manufacturers. Amalgam arrives at a dentist's office with skull and cross bones affixed next to the words "POISON, CONTAINS METALLIC MERCURY." Manufacturers advise dentists against placing amalgam in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under six, and anyone with kidney disease. For example, Dentsply has warned:  "Contraindication In children 6 and under" and "In expectant mothers."


However, most Americans are not aware of these warnings, according to a poll conducted for the Mercury Policy Project by Zogby International. The poll indicates that most Americans (76%) don't know mercury is the primary component of amalgam, but when informed, almost all (92%) want to be informed prior to treatment. The poll also found that most Americans (77%) would choose higher cost mercury-free fillings -- given the  choice -- and a large majority (69%) support a ban on placement of mercury fillings in pregnant women and children.





Most people think that dental insurance is similar to health insurance, but there are significant differences. This article discusses the advantages and limitations of typical dental insurance plans.


We at Straits Area Dental are proud to be a Delta Dental PPO.  While we do accept other insurances that are billed as “out of network”.


We also accept Michigan Healthy Kids / MIChild because we support the effort of the State of Michigan to assist children with dental health.


At many dental offices, you have to pay in full at the time of treatment, and then insurance payments are sent to reimburse you. At Dr. LaTocha's office, we file your claims daily via electronic claim submission and reimbursement comes directly to us unless otherwise specified in your particular policy. You pay only your co-payment at the time of treatment.


We Accept Most Insurance Policies


Our dedication to your oral health has come first and we continue to be one of the few dental office accepting most insurance policies, including PPOs.  Because our office is computerized, we are able to use the fee schedules provided by the insurance companies. This makes our calculation of your co-payment very accurate and reduces the chance of paying either too much or too little at the time of treatment. There are rare times when what we estimate and what the insurance carrier pays differ; however, we pride ourselves on attempting to be as accurate as possible when dealing with your insurance carrier.


Many people believe that because they have Medicaid they can only receive dental care through the health clinic. For many, Medicaid, in the State of Michigan, covers dental visits through the insurance company Delta Dental, including Michigan Healthy Kids and pregnant women under 19. At Straits Area Dental, we participate with Delta Dental, allowing Medicaid patients to receive care at our private practice.


History of Dental Insurance


In the early 1970s, there were very few dental insurance carriers. It wasn’t until the auto companies negotiated dental insurance coverage that we saw a boom in the dental insurance industry. The first policies that were written for the auto companies, the biggest employers in our state of Michigan, were wonderful. They included a $1000 insurance maximum. Can you imagine having $1000 in 1970 to assist you with your dental needs? One thousand dollars in 1970  would buy a lot — that was almost half the cost of a car and gas was only 29 cents a gallon! Most people using their dental benefits in the 70s couldn’t even use their entire maximum.


Dental Insurance Today


Sadly the insurance industry has not kept up with inflation, and most policies today still have that 1970s $1000 maximum. When adjusted for inflation, $1000 in 1970 is worth nearly $5600 today. Conversely, $1000 today was worth roughly $184 in 1970.


What's more, only half the population even has dental insurance. (Even those patients who qualify for state-funded plans are not applying for this benefit.) If you don't have dental insurance through your employer, it's difficult to get insurance (except through Aflac) and rarely worth it anyhow.


Learning About Your Policy


It can sometimes be difficult to figure out what your policy pays for and how much. There are hundreds of insurance companies, and each company has hundreds of different policies from which your employer may choose, each with different payment levels.


We pride ourselves on being able to assist you in researching your dental insurance policy and assist you with understanding your insurance. We will call the insurance carrier for you and verify your coverage and benefits. We then load this information into our computer system so that we have easy access to the benefits and co-payments at all times. If your insurance carrier will send us a fax of your benefits, we will give you a copy to take home for your files so that you will have your benefits at your fingertips.


For your convenience, we will file your insurance claim for you and payment will come directly to our office — you will pay only your co-payment at the time of treatment. With the information provided by the insurance carrier, we will calculate your co-payment as accurately as possible. Occasionally there are small differences and we will always either credit your account or send you a statement if there is a remaining balance.


Obtaining an Individual Policy


People often ask us how and where they can purchase dental insurance on their own. If you don't have dental insurance through your employer, then purchasing an individual plan would be your only option if you wanted to have dental insurance.


When shopping for a policy, you should carefully consider the cost of premiums against the benefits that you receive. Some of the carriers who write policies for individuals include:


Priority Health  


NGS American


Insurance Alternatives


Many employers offer flexible spending accounts (FSAs), where pretax dollars are set aside for medical and dental expenses. This is an excellent option for reducing your dental expenses. The amount of money you save is based on the tax bracket you are in. In addition, some banks and credit unions allow their clients to open health credit card, much like the old fashioned Christmas Savings Clubs.


Oral Cancer


Oral cancer is the sixth most deadly cancer, but most people aren't aware of that fact, or of the disease.  


Each year in the US alone, approximately 30,000 individuals are newly diagnosed with oral cancer. If you add throat cancer to the number (which have the same risk factors), that number will increase to about 42,000  people. The death rate from oral cancer is very high; about half those diagnosed will not survive more than five years. While these statistics are alarming, this high death rate is directly related to two factors. These may be directly influenced by your choices.


The first is to be aware. Knowing that lifestyle choices you make, such as the use of tobacco and other risk factors listed, are causes of this disease, is part of that process. Approximately 75% of all oral cancer patients are tobacco users. Avoidance of risk factors greatly reduces your chance of developing oral and throat cancers. Knowing the signs and symptoms of the disease is also part of awareness. It is one that will help you decide to seek professional advice should you recognize symptoms in yourself.


Early detection is the second factor that will reduce your risk. Once knowledgeable, you will wish to engage in a regular annual screening to look for signs and symptoms at your doctor's office, ensuring early detection. Oral cancer can be caught early,  even as a pre-cancer. With early detection, survival rates are high, and side effects from treatment are at their lowest. These screenings are painless, quick, and inexpensive. Like other screenings you engage in such as cervical, skin, prostate, colon, and breast examinations, oral cancer screenings are an effective means of finding cancer at its early, highly curable stages. Make them part of your annual health check-ups.


Dr. LaTocha's office has invested in the state-of-the-art VELscope® system for early detection of oral cancers. Call us today at (231) 436-7400 to schedule your simple, painless, and inexpensive oral cancer examination.


Risk Factors Factors you can control


1. Tobacco use. In all its forms, tobacco is the largest contributor to the development of oral or mouth cancers. Not using tobacco is the single most important thing you can do to avoid oral cancers.


2. Excessive alcohol consumption. More than 15 alcoholic beverages per week may put you at greater risk. If you must drink, do so in moderation.


3. The combined use of tobacco and alcohol. This significantly increases the risk of oral cancer more than either by itself.


4. Excessive unprotected exposure to sun. Unprotected exposure to sun will increase the likelihood of lip cancers. Use at least SPF 30 sunblock on your lips.


5. Low intake of fruits and vegetables. A diet that does not contain the protective nutrients of these foods increases the risk of developing a variety of illnesses including oral cancer.


6. Use of betel nut and bedis. When chewed or smoked, these are causative agents of mouth cancers. Avoid their use.


Risk factors not in your control, or in which control is limited


1. Age. Older individuals tend to develop more diseases in general, including oral cancer, as their immune system becomes less efficient.


2. HPV viral infection. Increasing numbers of young, non-smoking individuals are being diagnosed with oral cancer. The most likely causative factor is HPV viral infection, the same virus responsible for more than 95% of all cervical cancer. It can also be a co-factor and facilitator in tobacco induced cancers. While testing for the virus at the time of cervical examinations and PAP smears is becoming more common, individuals carrying this virus are not likely to know that they have it, as there are no outward symptoms. Currently there are no preventative or avoidance measures that will prevent sexual transmission of this virus. However, limiting the number of sexual partners decreases your risk of contracting the virus.


3. Race, ethnicity, and economics. There are socioeconomic factors that influence the development of cancers in different groups of people. For instance, while not related to biology, African Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer 2 to 1 over other races. In addition, people who live in areas with poor access to healthcare, or for economic reasons do not routinely visit a dentist or doctor, are also at increased risk.


4. Recurrence. Previous head and neck cancer patients have a higher risk of a cancer recurrence which may occur in the mouth or other areas of the aero-digestive tract.


5. Gender. Statistically males get oral cancer more often than females. Again, this is not related to biology but lifestyle issues.


This information was taken from the publication Oral Cancer: What you need to know, distributed by the Oral Cancer Foundation.




The air in bathrooms is easily contaminated by flushing the toilet, so the best place to store your toothbrush is in a drawer or medicine cabinet—or  outside of the bathroom altogether.  


Dr. Germ

December 26, 2007

by Charles John Palenik


Charles P. Gerba, PhD, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, is an expert on drinking water quality and pathogens in the environment. He has published more than 400 scientific articles and nine books. He developed  the first method to test water for the presence of cryptosporidium, a parasite responsible for sporadic outbreaks of diarrhea. But it is his interest in household and workplace microbes that has brought him greater recognition and the moniker—Dr.  Germ. For Dr. Gerba, it all started after flushing a toilet in Houston, Texas.


While a postdoctoral fellow at Baylor University, Dr. Gerba was asked by his adviser to observe a toilet flushing and to note the aerosols generated. Dr. Gerba soon devised a method for studying the distribution patterns of the droplets emitted, and called it a commodograph. Analyses of emissions indicated the presence of high numbers of bacteria and viruses. Microorganisms form biofilms on porcelain surfaces with gradual elution after each flush. The study indicated the presence of fecal organisms on a variety of bathroom surfaces. Air currents moved aerosolized microbes to surrounding areas unless they were blocked by a door. Flushing with the lid down also reduced microbial spread. Dr. Gerba advocated placing toothbrushes within drawers  or in the medicine cabinet to prevent contamination.