Dr. Oz's Improper Amalgam Toxicity Demonstration

Robert S. Baratz, MD, DDS, PhD
Stephen Barrett, MD

On March 28, 2013, the "Dr. Oz Show" claimed that Americans who have "silver" fillings are at risk for mercury poisoning. The highlight point of the program was a demonstration in which Oz applied a toothbrush to a mouth model and mercury vapor released as a result was measured. The apparatus, brought by Dave Wentz was a plastic enclosure containing a "mouth" mounted on a plastic frame. A plastic tube from a Jerome 431-X mercury vapor analyzer is connected to the frame so that the device can suck air surrounding the teeth into the vapor analyzer. Oz mentioned that he had seen the demonstration at a meeting when he and Wentz were "doing a program together" and that it had blown him away.

Several teeth in the model had enamel fillings. After noting that the analyzer read zero, Oz reached into the enclosure, vigorously brushed teeth with amalgam surfaces, and asked Wentz at what level he should be concerned. Wentz replied, "Anything over zero is toxic." When the meter registered 0.061 (61 micrograms per cubic meter), Oz responded, "Oh my goodness! 61?" after which Wentz remarked: "We are well above the limit that you would want to be exposed to. That mercury is coming off the filling, into your mouth, going across the blood-brain barrier into your brain." The demonstration was followed by an interview with a woman identified as "Dana" who claimed to have suffered from tremors, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems that she said was caused my mercury toxicity determined by urine testing.

Wentz's Background

Dave Wentz is the chief executive officer of USANA, a multilevel company that sells dietary supplements. His father, Myron K. Wentz, Ph.D., founded the company and the Sanivov Medical Institute of Baja California, Mexico. The USANA Web site states that Dave holds a bachelor's degree in in bioengineering and that Myron holds a doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology. Myron, who has been railing about amalgam for many years, author of A Mouth Full of Poison: The Truth about Mercury Amalgam Fillings [1]. Sanivov offers hyperbaric treatment, homeopathy, detoxification, whole body hyperthermia, neural therapy, colonic irrigation, Vegatesting, Cavitat testing, amalgam removal, and several other types of questionable approaches. Myron's self-published book states that Sanivov offers "the most advanced amalgam removal and detoxification program available."

Wentz's Relationship with Oz

Oz and the Wentzes have been collaborating in other ways for over a year. When introducing Wentz, Oz said:

I worked with Dave and his Ph.D. dad a long time. Their company are big sponsors of HealthCorps, which is the Children’s Health Foundation. We were doing a program together, and I witnessed you do this demonstration with your father, it just blew me away. I want you to bring it alive on stage today. (Oz didn't mention that HealthCorps is Oz's nonprofit foundation. The program to which he referred was a conference HealthCorps sponsored last year.)

After appearing on the Oz show, Dave indicated that that Oz had "become a good friend" through USANA's relationship as a sponsor HealthCorps [2]. The HealthCorps Web site lists USANA as one of its five "National Partners." [3] USANA's 2012 10-K report to the Security and Exchange Commission stated:

In January 2012, Dr. Oz participated as a surprise guest on the USANA monthly leadership call and the response from our Associates was overwhelmingly positive. In February 2012, USANA participated in "The Health and Happiness Summit with Dr. Oz" at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Dr. Wentz and Dave Wentz directly participated in this event and thousands of our Associates attended this event as well. Going forward, this relationship will include Dr. Oz's participation on future leadership calls and, more importantly, his participation at our Annual International Convention in August 2012 [4].

USANA's 2013 10-K report states:

In 2012, we began a strategic relationship with Dr. Mehmet Oz through his charity, Healthcorps. Over the past 5 or 6 years, the world has witnessed the overwhelming rise in popularity of Dr. Oz and, now, he has become a nationally recognized part of American culture. Dr. Oz participated in a number of our Associate events during 2012 and was a key speaker at our 2012 International Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. We plan to continue our relationship with Dr. Oz through Healthcorps in 2013 and going forward. This relationship will include Dr. Oz's participation on future Associate leadership calls and, more importantly, his continued participation at Associate events. While branding efforts such as this have a global reach, the primary objective of this initiative is to grow sales and the number of Associates in North America [5].

Why Wentz's Demonstration Was Improper

The Jerome 431-X is an industrial safety device that has no legitimate dental use. Under normal conditions, when teeth are brushed, any traces of mercury vapor will be diluted by the air within the mouth or bound by saliva and either exhaled, spit out, or harmlessly swallowed. Very little is inhaled. With Wentz's setup, the device sucks in air near the teeth so that the device receives a much higher concentration than occurs within the mouth with human toothbrushing. The OSHA permissible exposure limit is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, 8 hours a day, 50 weeks per year. Regular exposure at this level will produce urine mercury levels of about 135 micrograms per liter. These levels are much higher than those of the general public (and of dentists who use amalgams) but produce no symptoms and are considered safe [6]. The minuscule amount of mercury vapor that enters the body due to 1-2 minutes a day of brushing amalgam-filled teeth is trivial.

Mercury is found in the earth's crust and is ubiquitous in the environment. Thus, even without amalgam fillings, everyone has small but measurable blood and urine levels. Amalgam fillings raise these levels slightly, but this has no clinical significance. Many well controlled studies have shown that dental amalgams add very little to the daily dose of mercury one gets from breathing air, drinking water, and eating food. Wentz's statement that any level of exposure above zero is toxic is simply not true.

Amalgam fillings are inexpensive, strong, and durable. There is no scientific evidence that they poison anyone, and there is no benefit from removing those that are clinically sound and serviceable [7-11]. Instead of permitting "Dana" to tell her story, Oz should have investigated whether it is credible.

Oz'z program has the potential to do great harm by frightening people and lowering public trust in dentists who follow science-based practices.

In further response to the anti-amalgam program, the ADA Association decided to end its connection with Sharecare, the consumer website that Oz co-founded. (Sharecare.com invites the public to submit health-related questions that are answered by health professionals.) ADA President Robert A Faiella summed up the group's reaction by stating: "As a science-based organization, we should always welcome inquiry, but we should not be seen as supporting the promotion of misleading information unsupported by the best science." [12]

References

  1. Wentz D. A Mouth Full of Poison: The Truth about Amalgam Fillings. Chula Vista, CA: Medicis, S.C., 2006.
  2. Wentz D. Dave Wentz: appearance on The Dr. Oz Show an amazing experience. What's up USANA Blog, March 29, 2013.
  3. Our partners. Healthcorps Web site, accessed April 3, 2013.
  4. USANA Health Sciences. Annual 10-K report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, March 14, 2012.
  5. USANA Health Sciences. Annual 10-K report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, March 11, 2013.
  6. Baratz RS. Dubious mercury testing. Quackwatch, Feb 19, 2005.
  7. Baratz RS. Key points about amalgam safety. Dental Watch, Sept 14, 2004.
  8. Dodes JE. The amalgam controversy: An evidence-based analysis. Journal of the American Dental Association 132:348-356, 2001.
  9. ADA Council on Scientific Affairs. Statement on dental amalgam. American Dental Association , Aug 25, 2009.
  10. "What others say" about dental amalgam. American Dental Association, March 27, 2013.
  11. Institute for Science in Medicine. Policy statement on dental amalgam. Aug 29, 2012.
  12. ADA and Sharecare part ways: Association ends connection with Dr. Oz Web site. ADA News, June 1o, 2013.

This article was revised on June 25, 2013.