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Holistic Dentistry: Is it Really all that Different?

By HERWriter
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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).

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July 7, 2015 - 2:13pm

Very enlightening discussion. As the Dr's story pointed out any health professional whether it be a physician or dentist they must be knowledgeable on all aspects of their field as well as be open to communications to make patients feel at ease for their particular treatments.

December 7, 2012 - 9:27am

Not a problem. I appreciated the article. It pointed out something that was sorely missing on our website: a clarification of what the differences are between "traditional" and "holistic" dentistry. We really strive to provide complete information on our site and your article has prompted us to add a few new things; namely: an article describing the differences and what to look for when choosing a dentist and a series of "position papers" so people will know exactly where we stand on many of the topics you touched on (fluoride, implants, root canals, amalgam fillings, root planings, etc.).
I agree wholeheartedly in your comment that people "have the right to ask questions. They have a right to know what's going on. That they don't have to trust implicitly." For far too long people have trusted their medical and dental advisers implicitly. While most dentists are good people who want to look out for your best interests, the fact remains that no two people have the same "best interests" and their are alternatives out there. It's more than just your right to ask questions of your medical and dental advisers, it's your duty.
Here's a great example: One of my employees recently took his daughter to the pediatrician. When the ped prescribed fluoride drops for his daughter, he asked why. The doctor was taken aback and responded with "because it will help her." After further questioning from my employee, the doctor essentially said 'because it's industry standard and I'm the doctor, that's why.' Now the doctor was doing what he believed to be the "right thing" for my employee's daughter. Unfortunately, he couldn't cite even one source that pointed to the benefits of ingested fluoride for infants or to one study that refuted the potential dangers. My employee wasn't combative or argumentative, he just wanted to look out for his daughter's best interests... which differed from what the doctor assumed they would be.
We all have a duty and a right to question the philosophies, training, background, and decisions made by anyone in the medical or dental fields. It is, after all, YOUR health we're talking about.
Thank you again for the great article. Hopefully people will read your research and be empowered to make informed decisions about their dental care.
Dr. Marvin
PS: The new articles that you've spurred will start appearing on our website today. Thank you for helping us fill a void that we had missed. We really want to be a complete resource for a patient's holistic, natural, and traditional dental options.

October 8, 2009 - 10:07am
HERWriter (reply to Dr. Marvin)

I'm glad I was able to help. Wow!

I think it is so important for people to know they have options. I think it's so important for dentist like you to speak up so your voice doesn't get buried. You come across as a dentist that truly cares about your patients and knows what they're doing. I work for an endodontist who does the same, and worked for an oral surgery practice that did the same.

Perhaps as more information becomes available and more evidence comes available about how these methods work compared to traditional dentistry, more people and more dental practitioners and specialists will look on it more seriously and start integrating more of the practices.

The sad thing is that people should be able to implicitly trust their health care and dental care providers, but the many cases of abuse and improper treatment or recommendations means that we can't always trust implicity.

October 8, 2009 - 10:26am

Darlene. Thanks for the well-thought out article. As an holistic dentist (and former "traditional" dentist and dental school professor) I agree with you on many points and disagree on others. Without going into specifics on the various subtopics, I'll just point out a few things that make our holistic dental practice different. But before I do that, I think it should be made aware that the every dentist is different and to place one dentist in the "holistic" group and another in the "conventional" group is not a good way to segment all dentists. I'll admit that there are dentists who call themselves holistic (for marketing or differentiation reasons) and the only thing they do is not place mercury fillings. On the flipside, there are conventional dentist who perform complex, comprehensive dentistry that involves more than the teeth and gums... it involves the face, head, neck.... the whole body... hence the "wholistic" nature of what they do, yet they don't call themselves holistic. To say that a dentist is one or the other is not always accurate.

In my practice, I have put more emphasis on a more natural or holistic approach to dentistry. Let's talk about natural first. You mentioned that you would use a more natural cleanser for your house. I use a more natural cleanser for the mouth (as you state that you do). I don't use alcohol or artificial sweeteners in the products we use with our patients.
Do you use drugs to treat diseases? Or do you try to find a drug-less alternative? Many conventional dentists are ok with prescribing antibiotics and steroids to deal with infections. I avoid giving meds to decrease incidences of unwanted side effects and building antibiotic resistance.

Sure... everyone promotes and advocates prevention... who doesn't? But time, money, insurance, and the bottom line dictates that preventive education is not being done... especially in a dental office where overhead eats at the profits as each minute ticks by. If indeed all dentists were good at preventing decay, gum disease, cancers, tooth loss, then why do people continue to have problems and need to visit the dentists twice a year? (Most of our patients don't need to visit us every 6 months because they properly care for themselves at home, eliminating the need for them to pay for our services every 6 months.) In our office we go much further than the traditional "floss, brush, rinse" education you get at most dental offices. We emphasize that disease can be prevented with proper nutrition as well as proper daily care and we spend plenty of time in that area. Also, to simply remind you to floss and brush for 2 minutes is an over-simplification of proper oral hygiene techniques -- again, this is typically done to save time and get more patients in and out of the office. Has a dentist ever explained to you that by brushing your teeth, the goal is not to brush the surface area but to lightly brush plaque away from below to gum line? Has your dentist explained that flossing is not about removing food particles from between the teeth, but removing plaque from below the gumline?

Again... some dentists do put an emphasis on proper role hygiene and some dentists don't. All I can say is what we do with each patient.
The word holistic is not a reflection of the practices and techniques used by the dentist, but of an overall philosophy of the role of oral care. The word itself comes from "wholistic" meaning "the whole." Truly holistic dentists will educate patients on the importance of overall health and how dentistry can play a role in the overall health.
All dentists to some extent see the importance of the mouth in the overall health of an individual. For instance, studies have concluded a link between gum disease and heart health, diabetes, and pregnancies. However, many dentists are not trained in the long term effects of what dentistry does (or could possibly do) to the whole body. Hence the reason the field of holistic dentistry was formed. As I tell my patients, we do dentistry that is good for the body as well as teeth and gums.
Here are some examples:
When it comes to teeth alignment, many dentists -- including pediatric dentists and orthodontists -- look at putting teeth into a position where they look good together. Other dentists look how smile looks in relationship to the face. Other dentists look at how the teeth come together and how it can affect the TMJ, the muscles, the cervical spine, and the rest of the body. Dentists have different levels of understanding... some just have a more holistic view than others.
Materials: One key difference with holistic dentists is they use materials that are biocompatible... or healthy to the whole body. This goes deeper than simply removing amalgam fillings. For instance, there are several different types of composite fillings. Has your dentist ever checked to see which composition would work best with your body? Have you ever been offered a choice?
To summarize, lumping all dentists into two categories doesn't really work. I understand the point of your article is to help your readers make an informed choice when they hear the hype surrounding holistic dentistry. Unfortunately, some "holistic dentists" use the label to capitalize on a trendy field. Some "traditional dentists" take a very holistic approach to how they care for your mouth and your whole body.
For anyone who is looking to cut through the hype and make an informed decision, I would offer this suggestion: if you want a dentist who understands the vital role of oral hygiene in your overall health, ask questions that will reveal their philosophies. Questions such as "how do you determine which type of filling is right for me?" and "if I get cavities in one area of my mouth, can you tell me why?" should help (for the former, any answer that doesn't involve insurance or expense will typically reveal an holistic dentist. For the latter, you would be looking for someone who will talk about your bite and your nutrition... not someone who just tells you to brush better and eat less candy).
Do truly holistic dentists exist? You bet. I'd like to think we are one such practice and I know of several others whom I've worked with in the past. Does the term generate a lot of hype that you need to cut through? Definitely. Find a dentist who has your overall health in his or her best interests and you've found a good, holistic dentist that you should book your appointment with right away.
Hope that helps clear it up a bit. Thanks again for your article... it's a great primer on the "traditional/holistic" dentist debate!
Dr. Marvin
The Center for Natural Dentistry
Encinitas, California

October 7, 2009 - 2:37pm
HERWriter (reply to Dr. Marvin)

Thank you, Dr. Marvin, for the clarification. It's one thing I tried to find on the Internet. As I stated in my article it took me a while to find anything on any sort of differences.

And no you certainly can't lump all dentists into one category.

I write out of my experiences in dentistry with all specialties -- certainly not as in depth as you, mind you -- but I write with a hope of getting people to realize there are options. That they have the right to ask questions. They have a right to know what's going on. That they don't have to trust implicitly. They have a right to have their treatment provided by someone else if they don't feel comfortable with the treatment they're receiving.

I agree that it really comes down to how a dentist has been trained and what their experience has taught them. For example, I know of one oral surgeon who earned his DDS before dental implants came out and has 25 years of experience placing them. Another oral surgeon in the same practice, just graduated a few years ago where he specialized in dental impantology and bone grafting. So he comes out of school with the head knowledge, while the older doctor has the advantage of experience. Both are amazing oral surgeons, highly skilled and very knowledgeable. Together they make an amazing team.

Yes...very interesting discussion. Thank you for providing your thoughts. You certainly cleared up a lot of questions for me.

October 7, 2009 - 3:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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