Dr. Ann Tobin
Research has demonstrated the critical role of good oral health in supporting our overall health and well being. It is encouraging to know that the dental profession also has individuals dedicated to an integrative and holistic approach. My guest author, Dr. Robert Herzog, introduces us to the concepts and benefits of holistic and biologic dentistry. Be well.
Holistic Dentistry, by Robert Herzog, DDS
We all have a pretty good idea what a dentist does for a living. He or she shoots Novocain to numb the lip, repairs broken teeth or cavities, does the exam after a cleaning, and may even pull a bad tooth now and again. It is a life swimming deeply in someone’s saliva while working in their incredibly small mouth and desperately trying to make the patient happy about having a procedure. We probably know there are root canal experts (endodontists), gum tissue experts (periodontists) and oral surgeons who like to take out wisdom teeth. How about a pediatric dentist? A cosmetic dentist? An Implant dentist? Sure, those are pretty straight forward. I have been asked recently to explain what a Holistic Dentist does, as well as a Biologic Dentist, and how they both practice differently within the dental population.
Holistic and biological dentists are basically interchangeable in their practice philosophies. The difference between a holistic and a traditional dentist stems mostly from a philosophical approach. It is individually driven, and focuses on the interactions of past or future dental services and procedures to maximize individual systemic health. Today all dentists in the United States are similarly trained. A four year undergraduate degree with the necessary prerequisites precede acceptance to dental school, followed by the basic biology and science courses, the introduction to the oral structures, prevention dentistry, many, many, many hours of lab time perfecting the dental techniques required of a licensed dentist, as well as supervised patient dental experiences. These memorable four years plus a year residency program give the new dentist a license to practice. In 1997 the American Dental Association adopted the definition of dentistry: “Dentistry is defined as the evaluation, diagnosis, prevention and/or treatment (nonsurgical, surgical or related procedures) of diseases, disorders and/or conditions of the oral cavity, maxillofacial area and/or the adjacent and associated structures and their impact on the human body, provided by a dentist, within the scope of his/her education, training and experience, in accordance with the ethics of the profession and applicable law.”
Holistic or biological dentists operate according to the belief system that teeth are an integral part of the body and the patient’s overall health, while recognizing that the oral and dental health can have a major influence on other disease processes in the body. Most, if not all, dentists believe this to be true and operate daily with the well-being of the patient in mind. The holistic or biologic dentist takes this treatment idea further and tries to resolve dental issues while working in harmony with the rest of the body.
For many holistic dentists the use of dental amalgam fillings is one major area of concern for themselves and the patient. Mercury, a heavy metal that can damage the central nervous and immune systems, is used in amalgam as a mixer to wet the other metals (silver, tin, copper and even zinc, indium or palladium) making the compound pliable and allowing it to be pressed into the tooth. Over 50% of the filling contains mercury. For some dentists the idea of having the second most toxic metal in the universe inches from our brain presents the potential for bad consequences. Mercury has been used in dental fillings for over 150 years, and it still is used by over 50% of the practicing dentists today. In 2009 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluated the safety of amalgam fillings and found no reason to limit their use, except in children under age six. In 2013 nearly 140 countries signed a pact, known as the Minamata Convention, designed to limit mercury use and emissions internationally, including dental amalgams. The European Council in 2017 adopted an amended European Union Mercury Regulation that includes a ban on the use of dental amalgam for children under 15, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, unless medically necessary. While the debate continues, holistic and biological dentists are trained and equipped in removal of mercury amalgam fillings following a protocol set forth by the International Academy of Oral Medicine and toxicology (IAOMT). This protocol protects the office staff, dentist and the patient when removal is necessary.
Many other dental restorative materials are used routinely in dentistry. The holistic dentist is aware that material biocompatibility is necessary for many people due to sensitivity issues. Titanium implants, nickel-titanium orthodontic wires, noble metals used in crowns, and even certain mouth guards, can cause reactions to some people. Several different ways are available to test for compatibility and some, like blood tests, are subject to state law. Having materials that work in harmony with each individual patient is paramount. The holistic dentist may also assist the patient to become metal free within the oral cavity, limiting galvanism which may cause systemic disharmony.
The words “root canal“ send a bolt of fear through many adults. Every holistic dentist has their own threshold on the safety of this procedure. Some believe bacteria that are trapped within the jaw bone may lead to a systemic disturbance and immune system challenge, or the chemicals in the sterilizing agents can cause long term ill effects. New technologies through studies currently being done at UCLA are exploring a more thorough cleansing procedure of the root system with ozone and erbium Er:YAG laser.
Dentists who practice holistically look at the whole body and not just the teeth and gums. They may have frank discussions about better nutrition, smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. They may advise and offer programs on preventive dental care beyond practicing good oral hygiene. They may be literate about supplements, probiotics, or even the gene snips from the currently advertised genetic tests available to the public.
The use of digital x-rays and current equipment which substantially reduces radiation exposure to the patient is also a part of holistic dentistry. Some dentists are using 3D radiography (dental cone beam CT scans) to evaluate infections from teeth and previous extractions or trauma.
Many patients who follow a holistic lifestyle reach out to many different practitioners on a regular basis, either to maintain health or improve it. The holistic dentist is one person with an unique skill set who needs to be able to communicate with like-minded physicians, naturopathic physicians, chiropractors and therapists.
How do you find a holistic dentist? There are three main associations which support and educate dentists who practice in this manner—the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, the Holistic Dental Association and the previously mentioned IAOMT.
Robert Herzog, DDS, FAGD, is a general dentist, A Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry and is currently enrolled in the School of Integrative Biologic Dental Medicine. He is SMART (Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique) certified through the IAOMT. He has a private practice located at 651 Delaware Avenue, Albany, NY. He can be reached at (518) 427-2447 or at 651Dental.com.
Ann Carey Tobin, M.D., FAAFP, is a board certified family physician and certified Eden Energy Medicine practitioner. Her integrative medicine consultation practice, Partners in Healing, is located in Delmar. She can be reached at 518.506.6303, by e-mail at email@example.com or visit www.partnersinhealing.info
Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Please consult a medical practitioner regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical conditions.