Author: Dr Ian Hedley
What is holistic dentistry?
Holistic dentistry recognises that the whole body is intimately connected and that includes the mouth. The Greek scholar Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine” in fact wrote extensively about tooth decay and gum disease which he saw as important as lung disease, wounds and fractures.
The Surgeon General of the USA in fact states that “Oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans, and it is a window into the health of the body. Oral health can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection, and diseases that affect the entire body can first become apparent because of oral problems”
For many centuries dentistry was considered to be a part of medicine.
The mouth was considered as significant as the brain, the heart and other vital organs and medically trained physicians specialising in the mouth would be the ones to provide dental care. This started to change around the 17th century and by the early 1900’s dentistry started to branch away from medicine establishing itself as its own modality with its own teaching institutes.
“Modern ”dentistry has generally approached dental disease from a mechanical point of view- similar to how a mechanic services a car.
Its main focus is to treat the negative symptoms affecting the teeth and gums, attempting to arrest the disease by drilling, cutting or scraping away affected areas and often “rebuilding” with a material that may (or may not) be compatible with the individuals immune system and biological make-up.
To date this has pretty much been the approach in modern day-to-day dentistry-well for at least the last 100 years. In more recent years, however, there has been a growing awareness and shift back to considering dentistry (and the mouth) intimately linked to medicine and the body as a whole. These days the term “holistic” dentistry describes this type of approach to dental care- going back to where it all began.
This shift in consciousness has led to a growing number of dentists these days known as “holistic” or “biological” dentists who look to not only treat symptoms but also to find out and address the root cause of problems with the aim of restoring balance.
The philosophies and treatments of holistic dentistry are based on the understanding that what goes on in the mouth affects the body and what goes on in the body affects the mouth. The mouth is the first part of the gut and it is also has a rich connection with the rest of the body through many pathways such as nerves, blood vessels and lymph.
Both ancient wisdom and modern science tell us that disease in the mouth can (and does) affect the rest of the body- on many levels!
Holistic dentistry also recognises that some dental materials and procedures applied in day to day dentistry may not be particularly supportive to health. Each parson is different in their entire makeup and holistic dentists will take this into account when recommending treatments. This involves looking at what is going on in the body as a whole on a mind, body and spirit level.
Many holistic dentists will also tend to work with other natural health care practitioners such as holistic doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists and so on.
Here are some examples of how a traditional dentist and a holistic dentist may differ in their treatment approach.
· Your gums are bleeding and you have bad breath.
A traditional dentist may diagnose gingivitis and suggest some good oral hygiene practices together with some teeth cleaning to remove plaque and tartar around the teeth.
A holistic dentist may come to the same diagnosis but will also look deeper into why your gums are bleeding and how to get them back to health, preventing further issues. Of course this would involve good oral hygiene and cleaning away of plaque and tartar from the teeth but they would quite likely take a deeper look into why your gums are bleeding. Questions that may be asked are what is your immune system like? What about your stress levels, emotions, sleep patterns, gut health, nutrition?
In addition to oral hygiene measures and teeth cleaning further recommendations may be given such as essential oils, herbs, dietary advice and perhaps vitamin C and Coenzyme Q10 which are natural ways to help manage gum disease and maintain health.
· You have a large hole in one of your teeth.
A traditional dentist may diagnose a cavity caused by decay and set about drilling away the diseased tissue and filling with hole with a material that may have good mechanical properties without considering whether or not that material is appropriate to your particular make-up and immune system.
A holistic dentist on the other hand may make the same diagnosis but would want to carry out further investigations as to why it has happened in the first place. Typically they would offer advice on oral hygiene, they would also ask about dietary habits perhaps offering suggestions of foods to avoid that may be damaging to the teeth and foods that contain vital minerals which are strengthening to the teeth. They would take into account your immune system, your stress levels and any health challenges you may be experiencing. Based on these findings, a holistic dentist would advise treatments and materials suitable for you as an individual as well as addressing the underlying causes which caused the hole to develop in the first place.
Holistic dentistry is more than just calming music and aromatherapy oils, although they can be nice too! It is a more comprehensive approach to dental care putting the mouth at the centre of whole body health-and the patient and their unique needs at the centre of the care plan.