What Is Holistic Dentistry?
Holistic dentistry, also referred to as biologic dentistry, is an alternative approach that focuses on the use of non-toxic restorative materials for dental work, and emphasizes the unrecognized impact that dental toxins and dental infections may have on a person’s overall health. While traditional dentistry focuses only on the areas above the neck, holistic dentistry looks at the patient as a whole system and how the mouth relates to the rest of the body.
Origins of Holistic Dentistry
Applying a biological concept to the practice of dentistry began in the late 1800s, when the National Dental Association recognized the harmful effects of mercury (amalgam) fillings, and mandated that members of the association not use these on their patients. As of 1997, this warning has been recognized and acted upon by several foreign countries that have either banned the use of mercury in fillings or are in the process of doing so. Supporters of holistic dentistry state that mercury in amalgam fillings causes ill effects when placed as an implant in the body.
Further beginnings of holistic dentistry are linked to a 1925 article by the dentist Weston A. Price (1870–1948). A former director of research for the American Dental Association, Price claimed in an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association that such degenerative diseases as heart troubles, kidney and bladder disorders, arthritis, rheumatism, mental illness, lung problems, and several kinds of bacterial infections arise from root canal therapy, or endodontics. To come to this conclusion, Price conducted research that involved implanting teeth from the root canals of individuals with symptoms of severe heart problems and kidney disease under the skin of healthy rabbits. These same conditions arose in the rabbits, and within three days they died. Price then implanted the same tooth in another rabbit and found a similar response, but he also found that implanting a normal extracted tooth did not affect the rabbits.
Price’s root canal research became known as the “focal infection” theory, and because of its popularity, led to the extraction of millions of endodontically treated teeth. Further research conducted during the 1930s ridiculed Price’s theory by calling it invalid, ending the once-recommended extractions.
Price also maintained that sugar causes not only tooth decay, but is responsible for physical, mental, moral, and social decay. This judgment came about as he and anthropologist Francis Pottenger observed primitive areas throughout the world whose natives did not have cavities. Although concluding that the lack of sugar in their diets led to good oral health, critics have since pointed out that Price overlooked the fact that malnourished people do not typically get many dental cavities.
Support of Price’s theories continued, especially from a dentist named Melvin Page. Page coined the phrase “balancing body chemistry” and considered tooth decay an “outstanding example of systemic chemical imbalances.” In an attempt to aid these problems, Page marketed a mineral supplement with claims that widespread mineral deficiencies were an underlying cause of several health conditions, including goiter, heart trouble, tuberculosis , and diabetes. He also claimed that drinking cow’s milk was unnatural and the underlying cause of colds, sinus infections, colitis, and cancer. There is no research supporting Price’s statements, and his mineral supplement was never supported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The origins of holistic dentistry remain with Price’s manuscripts and photographs at the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation in La Mesa, California. Founded in 1965, the Foundation promotes nutrition, megavitamin therapy, homeopathy, and chelation therapy.
Since the late 1800s, supporters of holistic dentistry continue to state their concerns regarding several procedures and recommendations of conventional dentistry including the use of fluoride in drinking water and in teeth cleansers.
Description of Holistic Dentistry
Biological dentistry’s main concern is the toxicity of metals and their release from fillings and replacement appliances (such as metal partials and crowns that have nickel) used in dentistry. According to supporters of holistic dentistry, the metal ions separate from their original structures to diffuse, migrate to, and become absorbed in the tissues of the body, affecting the overall integrity of the immune system. An additional biological concern is “oral galvanism,” or the direct electrical currents generated by separated metals throughout fluids and tissues in the body. Hidden or residual infection, or the abnormal changes in the soft connective tissue containing dental material that cannot be processed, is believed to cause local and general defenses that put the body in a continuous state of active conflict, often leading to chronic disease.
According to those who practice holistic dentistry, there may be several major types of dental problems that can cause illness or dysfunction in the body, including:
- silver (amalgam) fillings that typically contain 50% mercury silver
- root canals
- cavitations, or neuralgia-inducing cavitational osteonecrosis (NICO), a term coined by the oral pathologist J.E. Bouguot in the 1980s
- electro-oral galvanism from dissimilar metals
- temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), a painful condition of the jaw and its supporting muscles
The main goals of a holistic dentist include identifying areas that need treatment and providing treatment to patients that will not create stress. Holistic dentists work in conjunction with other health care providers to investigate whether a hidden infection of dental origin exists, and whether it may be the source of or contributing factor to overall health problems. A biological approach to dentistry ensures the use of treatment and therapies that cause the least disturbance to the immune system. In order to determine the appropriate method of treatment, a holistic dentist must thoroughly review the patient’s medical and dental background.