Rather than just a routine “drill-and-fill” for a cavity, they may receive a head massage, meditative advice and diet suggestions that would seem more befitting a gastroenterologist. What they won’t receive are traditional amalgam fillings – about 50 percent of which are composed of mercury, which has been associated with numerous health issues and is considered an environmental hazard.
This emerging branch of dentistry – which dental professionals say is largely patient-driven – is called “holistic” or “holistic biological.” Holistic dentists believe that poor oral health leads to poor physical health. They perform traditional procedures but consider the whole body – diet, lifestyle, emotional health – when treating teeth. They also focus on using what they consider to be safer materials.
“It’s the opposite of common dental culture, which is simply ‘drill and fill,’ ” says Dr. Nammy Patel, DDS (www.sfgreendentist.com), author of Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living. “Holistic dentistry is looking at and addressing the underlying causes for gum disease and cavities; for example, is it your diet, hormonal changes, or acid reflux?
For many years in the dental profession, it was assumed that your oral health had only a tangential effect on your overall health. We now know better.
Dr. Patel provides five reasons holistic dentistry is trending up as a treatment approach by patients:
Focus on the whole body and root cause. Holistic dentistry looks beyond symptoms to find root causes for dental issues while expanding methods of preventive care. “It’s a deeper look at a patient that offers them numerous benefits when considering diet and lifestyle and how it all connects with oral health,” Dr. Patel says.
Minimally-invasive treatments. “The focus is on helping patients avoid unnecessary, painful and drawn-out procedures that can hurt overall well-being,” Dr. Patel says. “That doesn’t mean sacrificing high-tech treatments for disease. Laser treatments for gum disease and cleaning are one example of minimally-invasive. The latter does a great job of destroying bacteria that are the biggest danger to your oral health. Air abrasion and ozone therapy are effective other effective minimally-invasive procedures.
Biocompatible and non-toxic materials. Holistic dentists will remove amalgam (mercury) fillings and favor dental appliances made from more natural substances. “A traditional approach to dentistry often uses mercury fillings or crowns and other harmful materials when treating dental issues,” Dr. Patel says. “Research has shown all kinds of health problems related to mercury, from thyroid issues to Alzheimer’s. Holistic dentistry will use non-toxic resins and materials fully compatible with the body.”
Alternatives to root canals. Dr. Patel says holistic dentists are more likely to look at alternatives, such as herbs, laser therapy, or extractions. A key reason: “Research shows unless root canals are completely sterilized and cleaned of all bacteria, the bacteria can get in the bloodstream can cause chronic health complications,” Dr. Patel says.
Balances cosmetics and function. “Missing, damaged, or crooked teeth can make you feel self-conscious and affect your quality of life,” Dr. Patel notes. “Holistic care takes a balanced approach to both form and function when developing a dental care plan. For example, if you’re worried about stained teeth, they’ll guide you first to healthy foods that alleviate the problem.”
Holistic dentistry is committed to making sure you’re comfortable, making your teeth last a lifetime, and using the most natural materials available, Dr. Patel says.
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