“”Dentistry is not expensive, neglect is.
|—Saying in dentistry|
Dental woo consists of quack practices masquerading as dentistry, unfounded beliefs that some dental health practices are harmful (particularly, water fluoridation and mercury amalgam fillings), and patent medicines for dental health sold on the health food store market.
Other dental woo includes magnetic devices claimed to relieve toothache, and "dental charts" claiming to show relationships between the teeth and other parts of the body (similar to iridology for the eyes and reflexology for the feet).
L. Ron Hubbard went them all one better by claiming, in Dianetics, that tooth decay can be caused by "dental engrams" resulting from being spoken to while under anesthesia at the dentist's office. Hubbard believed that "engrams" resulted from any person being spoken to while asleep or unconscious. Somehow, if this happens in a dentist's office, the engrams which result are "dental engrams" that will cause your teeth to rot. That, of course, includes the nurse calling your name when it's your turn. Really. We're not making this crap up. Hubbard, of course, had a mouthful of awful rotten teeth. Ironically, Hubbard died from a stroke ("cerebral vascular accident") under the influence of a psychoactive drug (a Scientology no-no). It is now known that strokes are associated with chronic periodontal infections (gum disease).
Mercury amalgam fillings
Mercury amalgam fillings have been the subject of a great deal of woo floating around on the internet and elsewhere. Quackwatch has an in-depth article on the subject for those who are interested. Dental amalgam is an alloy usually consisting of about 50% mercury, 25-ish% silver, a little copper and tin, and trace amounts of other metals. In this alloy form, at normal temperatures, the amount of mercury vapor released by amalgam is vanishingly small.
Mercury was used extensively in the amalgam used for fillings but has since been replaced by more effective and safer alternatives (not that mercury fillings were particularly dangerous to begin with) in many places. In this role it has been falsely linked with multiple sclerosis although study after study has found no connection between the two.
Some quack dentistry practitioners have diagnosed all manner of diseases, from arthritis to chronic fatigue syndrome, as being caused by mercury fillings and/or root canals, and have prescribed the unnecessary replacement of such dental work for their patients. A "scathing exposé" of the "evils" of mercury dental amalgam was shown on CBS's 60 Minutes during the 1980s, which certainly added fuel to the fire. The most common claims made by the dental mercury militia include:
- "The 'smoking tooth video' proves that the fillings emit high levels of mercury." The video can be seen here. A debunking can be found here, in which a case is made that the smoke plume in the video can't be mercury as mercury is heavier than air and will fall to the ground, not rise. However, this analysis uses the density of pure mercury vapor, rather than the density of a very rarefied mercury vapor mixed with air; as seen here and here, mercury vapor mixed with air can indeed rise (or fall, or billow sideways) at room temperature. The smoking tooth video's creator posted a rebuttal video, in which he used a mercury vapor detector on a tooth with an amalgam filling -- first after it had been immersed in a cold water bath (showing 0 reading), and again after "stimulating" it with a dental tool (showing a high reading). According to the specs for the mercury detector he used, one of its published limitations is "Interferences from high humidity", but it doesn't say whether high humidity will result in false positives or false negatives.
- "Other countries like Germany have banned or limited the use of mercury amalgam fillings." In this case, context matters because careless disposal of mercury waste or leakage of mercury in transport has caused environmental damage.
- "It's a cover-up!" This would involve thousands of dentists keeping quiet about the risks of mercury amalgam fillings over the entire world for more than a century. That's some serious secret service dentistry.
A related bit of woo is practices claimed to detoxify the body of mercury after mercury fillings are replaced, including chelation or eating large amounts of the herb cilantro (coriander). This claim is baseless, although the latter does have the side effect of tasting good.
Now if all the above wasn't crackpot enough for you, some people have tried to remedy this problem by mixing dental quackery with psychic powers. One of the most famous "practitioners" of psychic dentistry, the Rev. Brother Willard Fuller, takes even this form of woo to a whole new level by adding in faith healing. Fuller claims to be able to use the power of God to restore fillings and even grow new teeth. Actual dentists who examined his "patients" found out, of course, that this was a load of bullshit.
With roots in ancient medical ideas, modern focal diagnostics began in the 1890s with the German physician Robert Koch. There was a medical belief that many disorders originate from chronic inflammations of specific points on the body (foci); Dutch-speakers called this focusdiagnostiek. By treating the foci, the medical disorder would disappear. Aspects of this remain in medicine, such as regarding compilations of tuberculosis, gonorrhea, syphilis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, and mumps as well as bowel disease, heart disease, rheumatism, and cancer. Focal infection fell out of favor as a primary cause of disease in the 1950s. Focal diagnostics has seen a revival in dental medicine with homeopathy treatments and removal of mercury fillings.
In any event, research has partly vindicated focal diagnostics. Periodontal infections do cause chronic inflammation that can adversely affect other parts of the body. The focal diagnostics treatment for periodontal infections remains worthless, however; it does little to change existing inflammation, and it has been discovered that in many cases the pathogens that actually cause the inflammation have already moved to different parts of the body.
Periodontal infection is associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis (both heart attacks and strokes) due to the presence of oral bacteria colonizing atherosclerotic plaques. Periodontal infection is also associated with diabetes, as these same oral bacteria have been discovered in the liver and are able to alter glycogen synthesis.  Peridontal infection may also be associated with cancer; this is plausible because chronic inflammation is a known cause of cancer.
More recently, periodontal disease has been linked to Alzheimer's disease following the discovery of specialized proteases produced by the periodontal disease-causing bacterium Porphyronomas gingivalis in the brain tissue of Alzheimer's patients. The bacteria were directly implicated in the development of dementia by experiments confirming the proteases' toxic effects on neurons (both in vitro and in vivo), the discovery that a common form of amyloid protein was an antimicrobial peptide capable of killing bacteria, and the bacteria's DNA being found in the cerebrospinal fluid of living Alzheimer's patients as well as the brains of people known to have Alzheimer's. Furthermore, protease inhibitors specifically designed to act against P. gingivalis greatly reduced the inflammation and subsequent neurodegeneration it induced. .
The exact mechanism for how the bacteria actually get into the brain is uncertain, but some possibilities include infection of the cranial nerves that spreads to the brain, infection of macrophages that carry them out of the oral cavity, or damage to the epithelial cells that maintain the blood-brain barrier. Upon entering the brain, it is believed to spread from one neuron to another over the course of several years by using anatomically connected pathways between its host cells.
P. gingivalis is known to colonize a variety of tissues outside the oral cavity (including the liver, the placenta, the coronary arteries, the respiratory tract, and the colon) and has also been implicated in rheumatoid arthritis and bacterial vaginosis.
Electro-acupuncture according to Voll
Electro-acupuncture, according to Voll, is based largely on the idea of focal diagnostics. It comes down to measuring the electrical impedance between acupuncture needles and thus determining the focus of the disease. Usually the proposed treatment consists of acupuncture and the removal of amalgam fillings.
This consists of treating dental diseases which are not very well known to the general public by food supplements, and attributing medical and healing properties to food supplements; thus appealing to a sense of fear that patients with the disease may have.
In many countries it is forbidden by law to make fraudulent commercials (attributing medical and healing properties to food supplements) and also forbidden by law to make commercials that appeal to a sense of fear. This doesn't stop several manufacturers of such supplements from continuing to break the law time after time. A good example is the Danish food supplement manufacturer Pharma Nord that has been sentenced and fined several times by various courts and advertising authorities (example: over Q10 in the Netherlands). Still this doesn't stop Pharma Nord from continuing this marketing campaign; apparently there are enough gullible victims that make up for the legal costs.
Periodontal disease quack treatments
Periodontal disease is a disease of tissues surrounding teeth, and is usually caused by poor oral hygiene. Several quack cures are peddled for this disease.
Even though no serious scientific research has ever proven relationships between Q10 and periodontal disease, manufacturers of this food supplement keep on advertising that Q10 is the cure to periodontal disease. As a matter of fact they attribute periodontal disease to a lack of the food supplement Q10, which would make it a nutritional disease. Scientifically speaking this is utterly false.
The suggestion probably comes from scurvy, which is indeed a nutritional disease and like periodontal disease makes your teeth fall out. However periodontal disease and scurvy are two completely different diseases.
Sometimes high doses of Vitamin C are "prescribed" to treat periodontal disease. While Vitamin C does treat and prevent scurvy, it doesn't treat periodontal disease as it is different. In Western civilizations, scurvy generally hasn't been around since the beginning of the 20th century.
The Healozone is a medical device that produces ozone gas and has a dispensing mechanism with a handpiece having a cap on the end, that can be placed on top of teeth and molars. The idea is to kill germs with the ozone gas and thus sanitizing the tooth; however in an environment full of bacteria like the mouth, re-colonization of the sanitized tooth will happen almost instantly once the cap is removed.
Until now scientific studies have only shown minor preventive effectiveness of the Healozone device. For this reason the use of this device is very limited and not popular in regular dental medicine; certainly no therapeutic properties can be attributed to the HealOzone device.
- Dental Watch, a site run by Quackwatch
- Mercury Must Be Bad - If Not in Vaccines, in Teeth, Science-Based Medicine
- Operation Clambake presents: The death of L Ron Hubbard
- "Gum bug, leave my heart alone!" — epidemiologic and mechanistic evidence linking periodontal infections and atherosclerosis by M. Kebschull et al. J. Dent. Res. 2010 Sep;89(9):879-902. doi: 10.1177/0022034510375281. Epub 2010 Jul 16.
- Are Amalgam Fillings a Health Risk and What are the Alternatives? "Find My Dentist" from Internet Archive from November 4, 2013
- Mercury Fillings: A Time Bomb In Your Head, Natural Life Magazine, Jan/Feb 1997
- How Anti-Amalgamists Swindle People, QuackWatch
- http://eparesponsemanager.net/r5rrt/Documents/PDFs/JeromeMVAv2.pdf (PDF)
- Request for an opinion on the environmental risks and indirect health effects of mercury in dental amalgam, Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER)
- Theft, murder, intrigue. It's a man's life in the British dental association!
- Psychic Dentistry, Investigator 93, Nov. 2003
- Focusdiagnostiek: Een verouderde theorie uit de geneeskunde is nog springlevend in de alternatieve tandheeldkunde by C. N. M. Renckens (2009).
- WebMD: Diabetes and Periodontal Disease
- The link between periodontal disease and cancer: A review by Comlan Missih
- Chronic Inflammation and Cancer by Emily Shacter & Sigmund A. Weitzman (January 31, 2002) Oncology