Concerns over amalgam fillings send Gill South to the dentist - but the cost sends her seeking more information.
I lie back in the chair, open my mouth wide and look at the pictures my dentist has thoughtfully stuck up on the wall. I see one of Piha, where I got married. Nice. Now, I am no nervous Nelly when it comes to visiting the dentist. I usually positively enjoy my visits. I have been going to a posh one in Mt Eden with an excellent television screen on the ceiling, and commendably up-to-date women's magazines in the reception.
But I am at a new one this time round - Milford Dentists, because Andrea Clarke has been recommended as someone who is extremely practised in removing amalgam fillings, a step I am considering for health reasons.
My rare feelings of apprehension are due to the blistering bill I am expecting to receive for removing all my amalgam fillings in one fell swoop. I have nine in all - yes, I eat too much cake. And it's even worse than I think. If I go for the "full monty", it's going to cost me around $2300, the equivalent of a small car. Eeek!
Why am I even considering this? Well, according to my latest blood test, I have some mercury in my blood. Not a lot, but even a small amount is "undesirable" , according to my holistic doctor, Kerry Lamb. On Google, a flood of articles allege mercury can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimers, the list goes on. One of the most common ways of eradicating the mercury is to get rid of your amalgam fillings, says Kerry.
There is a hearty online debate about the link between amalgam fillings and various ailments. In New Zealand, the NZ Dental Association is refusing to ban amalgam fillings, following the lead of the US Food and Drug Administration which said last year that it was not placing any restriction on them.
Andrea tells me that she hasn't placed an amalgam filling for about 10 years because in her opinion the properties of certain white composite filling materials - she uses small white glass beads in a white gloop - are now better than amalgam. She often gets asked to replace amalgam fillings for cosmetic reasons as well as for health reasons.
One doctor friend warns me that you can leak more amalgam having the filling removed than any slight leaking going on in situ.
This is why Andrea offers the option of removing amalgam fillings using a rubber membrane (rubber dam) placed over the tooth so that only this particular tooth pokes out, making the "capture of the amalgam slurry" easy.
I'm not just a one opinion kind of girl. I have a chat to my ever-practical family GP, who says she still has all her amalgam fillings - and she's one of the healthiest people I know, so that's reassuring. And I talk to a dentist friend who says there are concerns about white fillings as well, and it's best to go for ceramic fillings, which are, of course, horrifically expensive.
Now the dust has settled, my game plan is to make Andrea my main dentist, because she's an excellent woman, bright as hell, and I will get her to replace my amalgam fillings gradually over the years. Now, that didn't hurt at all.