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A Different Kind of Dentistry

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A Different Kind of Dentistry

By Kristin Ohlson, Experience Life

If the idea of a holistic dentist is new to you, you’re not alone. But if holistic dentistry follows the same path that the rest of medicine has been traveling, the concept probably won’t remain unfamiliar to you and other health seekers for long.

Holistic dentists approach care in ways that depart from conventional treatment. They employ holistic practices to the mouth, seeing the mouth as an integral part of a larger system. Holistic dentists generally reject some traditional procedures, especially root canals and the installation of amalgam “silver” fillings, which they perceive as being potentially harmful or downright dangerous.

And as it was with the alternative practitioners, like chiropractors and acupuncturists, who preceded them, their progressive perspectives are not looked upon kindly by the establishment.

The American Dental Association (ADA) declined to comment for this story, instead pointing to a policy statement on its Web site:

“‘Unconventional dentistry’ is defined as encompassing scientifically unproven practices and products that do not … conform to generally accepted dental practices or ‘conventional’ methods of evaluation, diagnosis, prevention and/or treatment of diseases, conditions and/or dysfunctions relating to the oral cavity and its associated structures … The dental profession advocates an evidence-based approach to oral health care that requires the judicious integration of systematic assessments of clinically relevant scientific evidence …”

But alternative practitioners insist that there’s scant science behind some of the standard procedures of conventional dentistry, as well as a long history of problems and health complications caused by some conventional dental treatments. They can also point to plenty of research that supports their own pioneering work and articulate the need for progress in a profession that they suggest has been mired in traditions that have not always served the best health interests of its patients.

“All dentistry should be evidence based,” says David Kennedy, DDS, past president of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, which promotes scientific research on biocompatible dentistry (basically, the avoidance of toxic compounds in dental materials). “Dentists think they are doing evidence-based work when they get out of dental school. But unfortunately, dental schools just teach ADA dogma.”

The Whole-Body Connection
The basic tenets of holistic dentistry are simple: Dentistry should do no harm, and dentists must look at the mouth, teeth, gums and jaws as integral parts of a larger, whole-body system. Holistic dentists see the mouth as more than just a receptacle and processing station for food. Indeed, the health and structural integrity of the mouth both influence and are influenced by everything else going on in the body — from skeletal mechanics to nutritional biochemistry.

Beyond those basic tenets, there is great diversity in how holistic dentists practice their craft. They may employ a wide variety of approaches to support and improve their patient’s overall health — and they may define health as comprising many aspects of physical, emotional and even spiritual well-being.

First visits with a holistic dentist generally involve comprehensive examinations and inquiry sessions that may last two hours or more. The intake forms might ask what other healthcare providers the patient is seeing, including herbalists and acupuncturists. They might ask the patient about health issues that are seemingly unrelated to the mouth: for instance, whether the patient has had disorders of the nervous system — from epilepsy to chronic nerve pain — or suffers from depression, digestive trouble, skin irritation or difficulties breathing. They might ask if the patient is sleeping well, has any phobias or has been dealing with an unusual amount of stress.

All these questions originate from the core belief that the health of the mouth and the overall body are connected. “Disease is always multi-factorial,” says Steve Green, DDS, a second-generation dentist who practices in Miami, Fla. “When someone comes to me with a toothache, I see two problems. One, there’s a sick tooth. And two, the patient is rundown. A healthy person can carry a sick tooth for years, but if they go through a divorce or lose a job, their immune system suffers, and the tooth quickly becomes intolerable.”

Recent studies support the connection between oral and overall health. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo — funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research — showed that people with periodontal disease have a two- to four-times greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

This tie is acknowledged by even conventional dentists, many of whom employ the heart-disease angle to encourage their patients to floss. But even though the health profession overall is moving toward a greater appreciation of the connection between the mouth and the body, the attention holistic dentists pay to medical issues discomfits the conventional dental industry.
All holistic dentists have completed the same professional training that conventional dentists undergo to earn their Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degrees. Many also practiced as conventional dentists long before they decided to shift their practices in a more holistic direction and complete additional training to support what they saw as more promising and productive methods.

Next: Different Takes on Orthodontia and Root Canal Concerns

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

25 comments

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1:42PM PDT on Apr 11, 2013

ty

2:38AM PST on Nov 8, 2012

This is a really different kind of dentistry because their approach is holistic which is really nice. Marketing for dentists should always be like this.

9:17AM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Where do you find a dentist that practices like this??? How does insurance work (not that I am ever sure I have insurance when I get it then it seems to be the first thing they cut at work). But I am interested in how to locate businesses like this in Michigan Barry County Area.

12:12AM PST on Feb 14, 2010

Arne, yes there are such devices. You'd need to speak to a holistic dentist. You may need to call around since not all of them do it. It's pretty common in Germany and my dentist in Canada does it too but it's pretty unusual.

12:01AM PST on Feb 14, 2010

Sounds good. But I imagine they are more expensive than conventional dentists. I wasn't disciplined in regards to dental care growing up and had many cavities, root canals, etc. over the years. I have almost no natural teeth left and will need lower denture, maybe implanted... but I know my mouth has shrunk because I've lived without most of my bottom teeth for the last 7 years and have an upper denture. Does the dentist use a procedure to stretch your mouth back to shape to accomadate the new dentures so they fit well and realign your facial structure? Hopefully that would bring back the fullness to my face that had been lost.

9:52PM PST on Feb 11, 2010

Modern medicine sucks period. Doctors just pump people with chemicals and they make money like that. People should really do natural cures and this holistic stuff and stop throwing away their money on things that are only making their overall condition worse.

5:12PM PST on Feb 11, 2010

I'm glad to see that other people are discovering alternatives. It's very comforting. I've never had any dental problems, not even one cavity and I've taken on a new hygiene routine, which doesn't involve much brushing, unless I happen to sneak a snack or something. Loving it so far (2 years) and haven't been to a dentist in over 7 years.

2:13PM PST on Feb 11, 2010

This is a real synchronicity for me to read this,just now, as my husband has peridontal disease and has finally decided to have the teeth extracted after breaking one off at the gum line. I can attest to the fact that insurance companies and most doctors don't consider this to be a medical procedure. Although I have read several mainstream articles saying that infected gums and teeth lead, or can lead to heart problems and he has already had by-pass surgery,the insurance company doesn't cover treatment. Fortunately we have other options.Thank you for a timely article.

2:42AM PST on Feb 5, 2010

I absolutely loved this article! I recently searched our area for a dentist that wouldn't look at me like a child abuser because i don't use fluoride toothpaste, which lead me to discover holistic dentists. It is wonderful having your magazine support many of the non conventional approaches to life that we take as a family.
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8:46AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

I recently went to the BEST dentist in town for replacing the 4 side bridges in my mouth. (I was born without many of my second teeth, so I have bridges) He wanted to do a "FULL MOUTH RECONSTRUCTION." Long story short; NOW I have lost my 6 front teeth, my very own, good, strong teeth. I mourn, grieve and kick myself almost everyday. He is so proud of the beauty of all these teeth. Now there are problems. He smiles and says, "Well, we thought that might not last. We can fix that."

I am beginning to believe I lost my front teeth (under the guise that my lower teeth needed to slide on my uppers) so he could pay for his son's dental school. At the VERY END, he said, "Well now your teeth are so vulnerable to decay that you cannot eat anything sugary, even FRUIT. WIthin a month I needed a root canal. He said, "Oh yea, we thought we might lose that tooth." Then he said,"If you want to have your new teeth last a LONG time, you'd better BUY this sleep guard." THe worst part is that I had THOUGHT I had made it CLEAR to him that I did NOT want a full mouth construction. When he first started DRILLING into my front teeth, I FROZE. Now I am hating myself everyday when I floss my teeth that SOMEHOW I did not scream out to stop. But then, he had already begun to drill. I can't say, "Put that back." He's skillful in his dentistry, but the bottom line is that he does not listen. He wants me to use FLORIDE to "remineralize". MY ADVICE? Get it in writing. Review it EACH time B4 you start.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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