Getting your teeth cleaned by a dentist isn’t usually cause for alarm. But for people with allergies or sensitivities, visiting the dentist can mean exposure, often unwittingly, to problem substances.
I’ve been practicing dentistry since 1978, providing cosmetic, general and reconstructive dentistry in an allergy-friendly, state-of-the-art facility in downtown Chicago. My interest in allergies and sensitivities is both professional and personal. My wife has celiac disease. Before she was diagnosed, she was frequently quite ill with headaches, gastrointestinal distress and general malaise. It wasn’t unusual for her to be bedridden for days at a time.
We were both delighted when she found that avoiding gluten was the key to restoring her health. Through my wife’s experience with celiac disease, I discovered, quite accidentally, that routine dental cleaning may expose patients to gluten. My wife’s celiac symptoms would return every time her teeth were cleaned. It took a while to find the source of her reaction but after we did, I was able to confirm that most polishing agents, including the brand I used in my office, contain gluten. My office has used only gluten-free polishing paste ever since.
Gluten isn’t the only substance that may cause problems. Here are some of the other materials commonly used in dental offices that patients may be sensitive to:
- Acrylic Acrylic is used to make temporaries for crowns, implants and veneers. Your dentist can substitute composite material that’s acrylic free.
- Epinephrine Most dental anesthetics contain epinephrine, which prolongs the effect of the drug. In sensitive patients, epinephrine produces heightened anxiety and increased heart rate. Ask for an epinephrine-free anesthetic.
- Eugenol Most cements used to seat temporary dental work contain eugenol, a sedative agent (refined from oil of cloves) that quiets tooth nerves. It can cause local inflammation, tissue damage and generalized allergic response. Ask for eugenol-free cement.
- Latex This is the allergy dentists see most. If latex is your concern, ask for latex-free polishing angles and latex-free (and powder-free) gloves.
- Metals Crowns and fillings can be made with metals. All-porcelain restorations are an option for people with metal sensitivities.
Follow these suggestions on your next visit to the dentist:
Speak Up. Let your dentist know if you’ve ever had any sensitivity or negative reaction while undergoing dental care. Interact with him/her during your treatment. Ask questions. Voice your concerns. Don’t be shy.
Know Your Options. Be your own advocate. Understand your health issues and that there are allergy-friendly alternatives to troublesome substances. Inform your dentist in a courteous manner and work together to ensure that you receive the safest dental care.
Update Your Records. Make certain your dentist is aware of your latest health history, including any recent surgeries and medication changes.
Flag Your Chart. Your allergy or sensitivity should be clearly marked in your record and the file should be flagged. LW