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Parental Advisory: Dental Disaster

I’m a breastfeeding mom and I’m stressing out about how toxic I may have just made my milk. I accidentally swallowed a good-sized dental composite filling while munching away on a hard pretzel. I heard that composite fillings are made of BPA plastic and that some composites have more BPA than others. I called my old dentist, but he is unable (or unwilling) to tell me what kind he used, so I can only assume the worst. I have banned plastic toys, bottles and food containers from our home. I thought I was doing a good job of avoiding BPA, but now I’ve gone and eaten a big ol’ chunk of it. How dangerous are these fillings when applied and (in my case) consumed, how long does it take to get BPA out of the body, and what if anything can parents do to lessen the effects of BPA on a child that has already been exposed to it?- Engaged in Chemical Warfare

Dear Engaged,

Oh, how we sympathize with your situation. Empathize, really. What you are experiencing is one of the existential truths of parenthood: No matter how hard you try to avoid it, sometimes, bad things happen. We can totally see why you’re freaked out. Despite your best efforts, you feel like you’re putting your baby at risk. And that’s a scary feeling. But let’s put feelings aside here for a minute and look at some facts.

For one thing, we don’t know whether there was BPA in your filling or not. You can certainly choose to assume the worst (or have no choice but to assume it, depending on your disposition). But the fact is that this filling was quite likely made of some other kind of plastic. According to (the plastics company-managed) site bisphenol-a.org, composite fillings often contain BPA-derived resins, but do not contain BPA itself. The BPA exposure in dentistry is thought to come from sealants, not fillings. There are others who differ on this point. But as this is an unknowable piece of information, you may want to go with the more calming data.

Let’s say, just hypothetically, that you did swallow a filling with BPA in it. For one thing, even the biggest filling is not that big. Fillings are composites, which means even if there was BPA in there, it was only one of the possible ingredients. And chances are, it wasn’t largely metabolized. It may not even have been metabolized at all. At any rate, only a tiny portion of what your body takes in can be found in your breast milk.

And as it turns out, BPA has a short half-life. (That would be the time that the chemical remains in the body after exposure, if you’ve forgotten the drug segment of your high school health class.) Within six hours of exposure, there are no detectable levels of BPA in the body. The health concerns about BPA revolve around continual exposure through food packaging and other plastics, not to mention the BPA found in the ground and water.

So, if your baby got any residual exposure from this plastic snack, it was probably very minimal and brief. You’d have a lot more to worry about if your baby drank regularly from a bottle containing BPA, ate food from cans, or was exposed to any of the other things you are valiantly trying to avoid. We encourage you to keep up the good work. But also to cut yourself some slack. No amount of vigilance can prevent the occasional snafu. This will not be the last time that something that scares you enters your child’s sphere. The chances are excellent that your baby’s going to be just fine.

Have a question? Email beingpregnant@babble.com

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