Family Matters

Would You Like Some BPA With That Dental Sealant, Dear?

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Paul Burns/Corbis

Over the summer, my second-grader apparently binged on BPA, that controversial chemical that may or may not act as a hormone disrupter, depending whom you believe.

No, he hadn’t been sipping from contaminated SIGG bottles or licking the linings of SpaghettiO’s cans. He’d been taking care of his choppers, like a responsible 7-year-old, opening wide as his pediatric dentist painted a sealant on his teeth.

What’s more, I’m the one who aided and abetted this unhealthy turn of events. And now I’m second-guessing myself in light of a new study in Pediatrics that detected the chemical in kids’ saliva after BPA-infused dental sealants are applied. Researchers from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine reported that BPA is released from some plastic resins used in fillings and sealants common to pediatric dentistry and is found in children’s saliva up to three hours after application. To figure that out, they sifted through a decade of toxicology data and learned that saliva interacts with derivatives of BPA in the dental resin to release the chemical during and after the procedure. The findings were alarming enough that the authors advised pregnant women to steer clear of the resins. No need to rush out and remove your children’s sealants or fillings — or your own, for that matter; once the resin sets, the BPA is stable. (To lessen the risk: Ask your dentist to use products containing BPA derivative bis-GMA rather than bis-DMA, since bis-GMA appears to be safer. Dentists can also buff away the top layer of the sealant and have patients rinse for 30 seconds right after the procedure.)

“It’s okay for the time being to keep using these products because they really do benefit children and the exposure is so brief, but that’s no excuse for continuing it indefinitely,” says Philip Landrigan, lead author and director of Mt. Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center.

Whether or not BPA is really bad for you is up for debate — it has been linked to early onset of puberty, cancers and behavior changes — but it’s certainly not really good for you. In light of that, I’d questioned my kids’ dentist, who’d recommended the sealant as a way to deter cavities, before making an appointment. Was it actually safe? He assured me there was no cause for concern; he preserves the smiles of his grandchildren with them, he added — and he’s got a lot of grandchildren. To make doubly sure, I checked with a dentist-friend, who’s the mother of a first-grader. The sealants got the green light as a valuable preventative tool.

But that doesn’t address why dentists have not been pushier about demanding healthier alternatives. According to Landrigan, most dentists and doctors aren’t aware of the dangers. “It’s not that they’re mal-intentioned,” says Landrigan, who is also a professor of pediatrics. “They’re just not educated. The average doctor receives six hours of education in environmental medicine in four years of medical school.”

It’s not as if children aren’t already exposed to bisphenol-A (BPA). In 2004, research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found that only 7% of urine samples from American children younger than 6 did not reveal the presence of BPA. Still, Landrigan hopes his research raises awareness and spurs change. Dentists — and parents — should demand manufacturers phase out the chemical. If major cities like Chicago have banned BPA from baby bottles, why is it okay for baby teeth?

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