After a couple of commenters left suggestions to look into holistic dentistry I decided to make it the subject of a future article.
For all the whoopla about it, I was rather surprised at how long it took me to find anywhere near credible information to explain to me why holistic dentistry was so different from conventional dentistry. Some information I needed a membership to read. Other information told visitors that the particular dental practitioner used holistic methods, but didn’t really explain what those methods were.
It took me about 10 minutes to sift through the Google results on “holistic dentistry” to finally find someone who could tell me what the difference was. It was good and thorough information, clearly listing the kinds of dental conditions holistic dentists could treat and how they did it. Exactly what I was looking for—sort of.
I was also looking for someone to tell me how holistic dental treatment differed and was better than conventional dentistry. I believe in doing things naturally. If there is a natural way of treating something or addressing something, I will do it. For example, I use a mouthwash that uses baking soda, witch hazel and natural peppermint; I used baking soda and vinegar to unclog my kitchen sink a little while ago; I buy natural toilet bowl cleaners and household cleansers that use lemon, orange oil, or other natural ingredients instead of bleach or ammonia.
Except for perhaps one or two differences, generally I found there to be no difference between holistic dentistry and conventional dentistry.
The Case for Holistic
Until I started looking into this subject for the purposes of writing this article, I had the impression that holistic dentists view conventional dentistry as barbaric, archaic and ultimately doing more harm than good. I had the impression that advocates for holistic dentistry believed that conventional dentists know nothing about these new methods (perhaps some dentists don’t, which is why I write these articles so at least their patients are informed about what’s out there).
Generally, though, I still don’t really see the point of promoting oneself as a “holistic” dentist. The general, conventional dentists and dental specialists I know (and know many quite well because of the nature of my work) all do the things that holistic dentists like to claim make them different and safer than everyone else.
I will provide a “tennis match” type comparison, here, to demonstrate what I mean.
Non-invasive and Non-surgical Approaches
Proponents of holistic dentistry or biologic dentistry hold that they provide patients with non-invasive and non-surgical preventative treatment alternatives. The implication being that conventional dentistry is invasive and always surgical and not focused on preventative. If conventional dentistry is not focused on preventative I wonder why I see my dentist every six months and why my dental hygienist recommends things I can do at home that can improve the condition of my teeth and gums? The purpose of these things is to “prevent” tooth decay, gum disease, periodontal disease, bad breath, etc.
My experience with dental professionals has been that they prefer a non-invasive, non-surgical approach so long as they are able to. There are certain circumstances where surgery may be indicated, but (with the exception of wisdom teeth – which is another topic entirely) that is always when all preventative and maintenance avenues have been exhausted.
Composite Fillings versus Amalgam Fillings
This argument is fully fleshed out in one of my other articles, but the general idea that holistic dentists advocate is the use of composite fillings instead of amalgam. They will also recommend that anyone with amalgam fillings in their mouth have them removed and have them removed by a “holistic” dentist who knows how to remove them. Tooth restorations should be done with inlays (tooth surface), onlays and crowns (full tooth structure restoration).
There is a difference here because many conventional dentists are still using mercury-based amalgam fillings, but composite fillings, porcelain, inlays, onlays and crowns are not exclusive to holistic dentists. A responsible dentist who knows what they’re doing will also be able to remove amalgam fillings properly. If you’re not sure what the protocol is, find out. If you’re not sure your dentist does, find out. Do not go through any treatment unless you are confident that your dentist does know what he/she is doing.
Increasingly, conventional dentists are switching to composite wherever possible and as dental research into composite materials increases the durability for high-pressure biting surfaces (molars) we may eventually see a natural decrease in the use of mercury fillings anyway.
Extraction instead of Root Canal Therapy
When a patient is considered for root canal therapy it is usually because there is extreme tooth decay, a fractured root or extreme periodontal disease, or some other event or condition that has compromised the tooth’s structure and functionality. As part of the consultation to determine the proper course of treatment, a dentist or root canal specialist (endodontist) will discuss other treatment options such as extraction of the tooth and prosthodontic replacement. (I find it interesting that my reading didn’t indicate an aversion by holistic dentists to not replacing these extracted teeth with titanium implants –a metal which has been shown to cause no allergic reaction—which is the standard of treatment for replacing missing teeth now).
The holistic focus here seems to be on the fact that in even successfully root canaled teeth –where all canals have been located and treated (sometimes a dentist may miss a canal or two)—can still contain bacteria in microscopic tubules in the treated tooth that can spread to other parts of the body. If a root canal is performed on a tooth, holistic dentists claim their root canal treatment methods are different because they use a calcium hydroxide rinse (calcium oxide, zinc oxide and an ethyl/glycol/water liquid) to flush out these tubules.
Conventional dentists and root canal specialists also use this rinse. Again, I’m not really sure where visiting a holistic dentist in this case presents any particular advantage over a conventional dentist.
Holistic dentists claim that their treatments of deep cleaning, teeth scaling and root planing—the scraping away of plaque and tartar from gums—is a different method of treatment and preventative maintenance than you would receive from your conventional dentist and is an alternative to the “traditional” surgical treatment provided by conventional dentists. Not so.
In fact, cleaning, scaling and planing is standard preventative treatment for conventional dentists and dental specialists. If a conventional dentist can maintain oral health through these means and a specific tooth cleaning at-home protocol there will be no need for surgical treatment. Surgical treatment is only used as a last resort, not a “standard” treatment. If the non-invasive measures (cleaning, scaling and planing) are not completely successful, surgery may still be indicated. Non-invasive measures do not automatically preclude the possibility that surgery may be required in the future. For most patients, the non-invasive preventative measures will be sufficient. For others, they will not.
This is perhaps the most obvious difference between holistic and conventional dentistry. Conventional dentistry still espouses that fluoride in water and other sources is necessary for healthy teeth. Holistic dentistry argues otherwise (this debate is presented in my article, The Fluoride Debate: https://www.empowher.com/news/herarticle/2009/09/10/fluoride-debate) and advocates for the removal of fluoridization from the water treatment process.
Holistic dentistry purposes that occlusal adjustment, physical therapy, and medications are more non-invasive measures for treating TMJ issues. TMJ issues usually stem from a “malocclusion”—a misalignment of the teeth or jaws and compromising chewing efficiency or parafunctional habits (grinding, clenching) or injury to the orofacial complex. If your teeth and jaws are not optimally aligned, this can put undue pressure and stress on jaw muscles, ligaments, and joint structures.
Holistic dentistry claims their methods focus on reducing muscle spasm, swelling, and re-establishing or restoring the optimal relationship between teeth, muscles and joints.
The implication of this claim is that conventional dentistry doesn’t advocate for this kind of treatment for TMJ. But it does. Surgery is only used in very extreme cases, once all other avenues have been exhausted or the condition is determined to be one that won’t respond to traditional, non-invasive measures.
I won’t go so far as to say “holistic dentistry” is a crock. But in my experience the treatments they advocate for are used by conventional dentists—if your conventional dentist doesn’t use them it’s time to perhaps find someone else—and the treatments are not exclusive to those who claim to be holistic dentists.
Before engaging in any treatment, research it yourself, make sure you know what your dentist is doing—or should be doing—know your alternatives and make sure you discuss those with your dentist. In the end, you, the patient, have the right to say no to certain treatments even if your dentist advocates it. While I don’t recommend that patients always go against their dentist’s recommendations, my point is that you need to be aware of what’s going on in your mouth. If your dentist won’t discuss it, find someone who will. Make sure you’re confident that your dentist knows what they’re doing.
Be an educated patient.
Sources: www.thenaturalguide.com, www.holisticdentalnetwork.com