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What is “holistic dentistry” anyway?

What is “holistic dentistry” anyway?

      Sometimes when I am asked what I do for a living I just say that I am a dentist, knowing that if I say I am a “holistic” dentist, we’re in for a longer conversation than they may have wanted. Invariably, the question comes up, “What’s a holistic dentist?” or “What is different about holistic dentistry?” I don’t have a quick answer. Even those of you who are my patients may sometimes wonder what does “holistic” dentistry, or “biological” dentistry, or “integrative” dentistry really mean?  I’m going to give you a bit of a longer answer.

       For those of us who have been doing this a long time, the story begins with mercury. I’ve been doing mercury-free dentistry for about 34 years now. Most of us in this field made a decision to make a radical change in our dental practice based on concerns about mercury amalgam fillings. To stop using “silver” mercury amalgam fillings meant one had to search for a more biocompatible option.  A serious investigation into the biocompatibility of all dental materials and techniques leads to a lot more questions about a variety of subjects, many of which “traditional” dentists don’t know much about or have never heard of.

       To properly deal with patients’ mercury issues, dentists had to start learning about toxicology and the behavior and properties of heavy metals. They need to have an understanding about body chemistry, heavy metal detoxification and nutrition. It becomes obvious that traditional medicine is sorely lacking in their understanding of, and ability to handle, chronic mercury toxicity. If the dentist is lucky to live in the Seattle area, there are a lot of qualified alternative health practitioners who do have experience and expertise in this subject. Still, dentists themselves need to become very educated about this field. This usually leads them to pursuing an education in, and/or training in, a wide variety of other subjects that may have relevance to helping their patients in ways that are a little “off the grid” of mainstream dentistry.

        A more all-inclusive, or holistic point of view begins to develop. Most holistic dentists have at least a working knowledge of subjects like:  temperomandibular joint dysfunction (“TMD” or “TMJ”), craniosacral treatment or cranial osteopathy, ozone therapy, various forms of energy medicine, homeopathy, electrodermal testing, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, applied kinesiology or other forms of “muscle testing,” non-surgical, biological periodontal treatment, the risks of root canal treated teeth, bone cavitations, herbal medicine, essential oils, nutritional supplementation, fluoride toxicity, microbiology of dental plaque and biofilms, and on and on. Each subject leads the open mind to many more related subjects, and the learning never ends. Some dentists will pursue a much more in depth training in some of these areas. It also leads to a greater understanding of how to work as a team with various other holistic practitioners in the health field. All of this is in the interest of providing a more complete service to patients in improving their oral and overall health. The underlying question is always, “How does this affect not just the teeth and mouth, but the health and life of the whole person?”

       One crucial piece is to understand how to protect patients, self, and staff from mercury exposure in the dental office. We’re not placing mercury fillings, of course, but we’re removing them. All dentists are, at some point. The process of removing an amalgam filling, for whatever reason, can lead to the generation of hazardous levels of mercury exposure. Very careful, thorough, and effective mercury protective protocols is a must for a “mercury free” dentist to also be “mercury safe.”

   I hope this gives a little more of a picture of “holistic dentistry.”


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