Science in the media


I was recently writing a blog on amalgam and preparing an upcoming post on fluoride. Both are seemingly ‘’controversial’’ topics in dentistry. It prompted me to wonder, why are these topics so controversial?

If I asked a person on the street was there any health issue with amalgam or fluoride, likely they would tell me about the potential dangers of both. Maybe they would say how a local county council in Cork called to ban fluoride. I get asked probably every day at least once about whether amalgam fillings are safe.

If I asked the same person on the street was there any controversy surrounding white fillings (composites) they would likely say ‘’no’’. But white fillings contain ''Bisphenol A''. This chemical has effects similar to oestrogen. Why is there no controversy surrounding the use of female hormones in our filling materials?

White fillings are in fact, safe to use. Similarly fluoride and amalgam are safe. Put your trust in well done research and statistics to prove it.

Taking control of your own healthcare

I often advise patients to avoid phrases like '‘I have soft teeth'’, because it implies the control of their healthcare is out of their hands. The first step to health is taking ownership of your own health and body, and being aware of what can be done to help.

Research the research. Make sure the sources you are looking at are reputable. In general, the top scientific journals will try to publish well established, well founded research which avoids bias.

For example: If you want to research whether there is a health risk to dental amalgam:

We can look at when amalgam was introduced in dentistry and used in patients. We can look at how common a disease is in the population before and after the materials use. If there was a connection we’d see an increase in the disease.

What this all comes down to is an understanding of science and statistics. I imagine that back when humans were hunter-gathering, a basic knowledge of the forest, what foods to eat and what to avoid was necessary to survive. Given that we live surrounded by chemicals, machines, devices, medicines, computers and data, surely a basic knowledge of how the world works (i.e. science) and how to analyse data (statistics) should be emphasised, so people can make their own informed judgements about issues like these, and not be led by the nose by the media to the manufactured controversy of their choosing.

P.s. Watch this fantastic comedy sketch by Dara O’ Briain about understanding science.

Dr John Bresnan