When we think about holistic health, we think of diet and supplements, exercise and prevention, and maybe even remedies. A step further into the philosophy of chiropractic care, and we see a focus on removing the factors that interfere with the body’s ability to pursue and maintain health.
Now, how much of that do you relay to oral health and dentistry?
For years, modern dentistry was thought to be something you couldn’t avoid. All dentists seemed to use the same basic approach, and things like fluoride and fillings were simply unavoidable facts of life.
Today, holistic dentistry is not only available but gaining popularity. Learn about their approach to oral health here, then visit a nearby holistic dentist to benefit from their expert care.
The Mainstream Approach
When learning about something new, it helps to review what we’re familiar with to establish a frame of reference. In this case, we need to take a step back and look at our familiar dentistry practices from the perspective of their philosophy of (oral) health.
As with most allopathic medicine, mainstream dentistry approaches oral health from a pathogenic standpoint. While there is some prevention encouraged, such as brushing and fluoride, very little is recommended in terms of diet and lifestyle.
More often, we see dentists checking their patients for flaws that they can fix. They will remove tissues, kill infections, replace what’s too far gone, and it all happens after the fact.
Dentists aren’t to be vilified or avoided – check ups are important, since oral health can affect the whole body. But their approach is limited in terms of holistic, whole-body health. If you cannot find a holistic dentist near you and you’d like to take your oral health more seriously, please continue visits with your regular dentist and simply add in preventative measures in your own lifestyle.
How Holistic Dentistry Differs
The holistic approach to dentistry, as the name implies, looks to the individual as a whole for wellness. While allopathic care addresses symptoms as parts of an equation leading to a treatment, holistic care views symptoms as components of a wider issue and seeks to resolve it with as little interference as possible.
For example, where a cavity under the care of a traditional dentist might signal a need for better brushing habits and a filling, a holistic dentist might see a need for dietary changes, supplement requirements, and treatment with the goal of remineralization.
Much like chiropractic care, holistic care seeks to allow the body to repair itself, only stepping in when the interference is too great for the body itself to overcome.
While each dentist will have their own specific approach and each individual will have their own specific needs, you can expect some basic commonalities amongst holistic dentists, including:
- Preventative care
- Gentle, restorative therapies
- Avoidance of heavy metals
When you work with a holistic practitioner, expect a partnership as much as a care provider. You get one body, and it’s your job to take care of it. The holistic dentist, like the holistic doctor, is there to guide you and help you get past environmental roadblocks.
Preventative Oral Health
Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While his era isn’t renowned for its stellar oral health, the principle stands. Taking the time to take care of your body well – including your mouth – can help you avoid the need for treatment altogether.
All dentists, holistic or not, agree with this sentiment, though not all take it so seriously as the holistic dentist. True preventative care, for their purposes, goes far beyond the brush, though it doesn’t exclude the brush.
“Alternative” doesn’t mean “opposite” – holistic dentists are sure to recommend brushing, though they may have some suggestions. Soft bristles to minimize enamel damage, brush materials, the shape of the brush, and the paste you use all matter to optimal oral health. A holistic dentist can help you hone you brushing skills.
Nutrition is also sure to be discussed with your holistic dentist, likely as a primary concern. Our food choices have far-reaching effects, changing our body chemistry and immune capabilities, for better or worse. Because oral health declines when bacteria is allowed to thrive, strengthening the internal environment through diet is key.
To this point, the preventative strategies of a holistic dentist may not seem much different from more conventional strategies – just a little more detailed. But there’s so much more to prevention from a holistic perspective.
An example of a preventative strategy you might receive from a holistic dentist includes lowering your stress levels. You may not realize it, but the stress you internalize affects your health. In the case of oral health, it suppresses the immune system and leaves the body more susceptible to issues such as the bacterial overgrowth and enamel breakdown that leads to cavities. (1) It can also interfere with your motivation to care for your mouth well, exacerbating the problem.
Prevention strategies from a holistic dentist will be thorough and attentive to your specific needs.
Holistic Dentistry Therapies
Talk of prevention is nice on paper, but when it comes down to it, holistic dentists aren’t naïve – they understand that treatment will be required. Whether it’s because you are seeking repair after traditional dentistry or due to simple neglect or a factor beyond your control, oral healthcare involves therapies and treatments.
This will, by no means, be an exhaustive list of treatments accessible through holistic dentistry, but I’d like to highlight some of the more intriguing potential therapies that your local holistic dentist may employ.
Because of the obstructive nature of the mouth, very little oxygen is available to bacteria in weakened enamel or gums, creating an ideal anaerobic environment in which it can develop. Ozone therapy is intended to stop this growth by overwhelming the area of concern with high levels of oxygen. (2)
Ozone therapy has been the subject of much research in recent years, picking up steam as an option for actually remineralizing teeth rather than simply filling a hole. In one study released in September of 2015, children had been treated to fill crevices in their teeth, then evaluated for remineralization. The ozone therapy “showed the highest remineralization,” and the results were lasting, showing the best results of the tested methods even after a year had past. (3)
Research is continuing on ozone therapy, and we certainly have more to learn. But many practitioners and researchers are finding success with its use. In the treatment of cavities themselves, ozone has the potential to eliminate both categories of bacteria – gram positive and gram negative. (4)
Another therapy intended to introduce more helpful substances to the mouth is that of plasma injections, or PRP (platelet-rich plasma). Injections at the dentist are typically dreaded, but this is one that your mouth might look forward to.
In normal body processes, the blood carries a vast range of nutrients and substances throughout the body, delivering it as needed. For areas of infection or danger, the blood will carry white and red blood cells, nutrients, and an inflammation-causing immune response.
Unfortunately, this process isn’t smooth or perfectly compatible with our lifestyles, and we sometimes see excessive inflammation or a lack of nutrients as evidence. The purpose of PRP is for the holistic dentist take a sample of your own blood to a lab, where the platelets in the larger sample are condensed to a smaller sample, then injected to the area of concern.
Of PRP and dental health, an Italian study concluded that, “… the use of PRP in the alveolar socket after tooth extractions is certainly capable of improving soft tissue healing and positively influencing bone regeneration…” in certain circumstances, including oral surgery. (5)
Alternative Fillings and Implants.
This may be the most common reason that patients begin to look for a holistic dentist. We know now that mercury is a dangerous toxin that can quickly overload the body, yet fillings (“amalgams”) are still comprised heavily of mercury.
Holistic dentists usually provide the intricate service of removing these fillings and replacing them with mercury-free alternatives. This is a heavily involved process that requires oversight from someone who understands the steps and the risks.
Holistic Oral Health Products
Your holistic dentist will not likely send you home with a tube of box-store toothpaste and fluoride, so what will they recommend? Like the other factors, it will largely depend on the practitioner and the client. Successful holistic care thinks outside of the box to determine what is best for you as an individual. Let’s look at some of the more common products that may be recommended.
Hydrogen peroxide is used as an ingredient in some conventional whitening treatments and can be included in holistic care as well. The important thing to know about hydrogen peroxide is that it is powerful, which can become a problem after prolonged use.
Before reading DIY holistic care tips and including peroxide regularly, remember that it can eventually break down the enamel. Use sparingly as needed – once weekly or a couple of times monthly – for whitening without damage, and ideally consult with a holistic dentist first.
Often incorporated into homemade toothpaste and used as part of a larger treatment or prevention plan, bentonite clay is an important part of many holistic approaches. The idea is that the porous clay expands with moisture and, in that process, draws bacteria into itself and out of the body.
Botanicals and Essential Oils.
Holistic care frequently utilizes botanical and essential oil products, gaining benefits from nature’s ability to formulate healing compounds. Most pharmaceuticals found their start in the evaluation of a plant – using the whole plant or an extract of it provides the benefit of the whole plant-product, and delivery to the body as nature intended.
These practices extend back to some of the oldest forms of medicine, which science is confirming more and more as we uncover their various mechanisms of action. Ayurvedic medicine, for example, would practice “oil pulling,” the act of swishing oil around in your mouth for extended periods of time, then spitting it (and, presumably, the toxins) out. This, along with some of the other herbs and practices, was reviewed in a 2011 study that found traditional medicines to have managed oral health well in ancient India and point toward future approaches and formulations. (6)
Botanicals and essential oils may be utilized in numerous ways, and a well-formulated botanical product can provide great benefits. As summarized in an article in the Journal of Integrative Medicine,
The use of herbs in dental practice is not limited to only material sciences. A single herb shows a variety of effects like anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal activity and many more. Hence the incorporation of these herbs in dental practice will prove to be a valuable adjunct in dental treatment. (7)
Herbs are typically chosen for these kinds of qualities in order to create a better oral environment. Essential oils are chosen similarly, and diluted into sprays and mouthwashes can be a strong and effective holistic tool.
Again, dependent upon your scenario, the holistic dentist may suggest nutritional support products in order to get your diet – and whole body – back on track.
We talked briefly about nutrition and the way that diet choices can affect our oral health and should be part of a holistic strategy for wellness. Sometimes, though, we need to step in from outside of the diet to provide adequate nutrients. For example, with oral health trouble indicating a bacterial balance issue, probiotics may be suggested to balance out bacterial levels.
Mineral deficiency is another area to be considered, with low calcium, phosphate, and magnesium showing conclusive connections to cavities. (8) If absorption or fat soluble vitamin deficiency are potential problems, good sources of healthy dietary fats may be in order, or omega supplementation.
Holistic dentistry strives to be minimally invasive and beneficial to your whole-body health, inside and out. If you’re ready to take a new approach to oral health, partner with a holistic dentist to accomplish your wellness goals together.