Put your money where your mouth is!

You brush twice a day, avoid sweets, and you may even floss. But now you’re wondering about your healthcare provider, and whether you should choose a traditional dentist or a holistic one. 

Holistic dentistry is part of the alternative health movement. Also called unconventional, biologic or biocompatible dentistry, the practice considers the patient’s dental health in the context of their entire physical, emotional or spiritual well-being. Holistic dentists approach care in ways that depart from conventional treatment. They may reject some traditional procedures—especially root canals and the use of amalgam fillings—which they perceive as being potentially harmful. 

Traditional dentists often maintain that holistic and biological dentists use approaches that are not only unsound but involve procedures and body areas that are outside of the legitimate scope of dentistry. 

Let’s take a look at some of the philosophical differences between traditional and holistic dentists. 

Mercury Fillings
Traditional dentistry advocates mercury amalgam fillings based on their longevity, and the fact that insurance will typically cover them. They might point to American Dental Association and Food and Drug Administration statements that the mercury in dental fillings is safe and proven to back up their positions. 

Holistic dentists regard mercury as a toxin and believe that even small amounts are too great a risk to the body and overall health. Long-term or heavy exposure to mercury vapor can result in brain damage and ultimately death. They point out that while amalgam fillings last longer than composites, they put exert extreme pressure on the tooth, often causing it to weaken.  

Root Canals 

Most traditional dentists will recommend a root canal as a means to save a tooth that has suffered severe decay and has already died or will soon die completely. They make a case that the procedure has been done for centuries and is a safe and effective means to keep a natural tooth. 

Holistic dentists typically do not recommend root canals. They point to research that says root canal therapy cannot be effective unless the canal is 100% sterilized and free of bacteria, and that studies have shown that it is impossible to completely sterilize the canal. They argue that the chemicals used for sterilization—such as formaldehyde—are toxic and that the bacteria left in the canal can lead to adverse health affects later.  

Traditional dentists are advocates of using fluoride in both a topical and ingested form. They argue in favor of fluoridating water supplies and recommend fluoride drops for infants and children. They point to research showing a decrease in cavity rates in areas where the water is fluoridated. 

Holistic dentists typically argue against any form of ingested fluoride, providing research that shows ingested fluoride is linked to cancer and various bone problems while other research has shown no benefit to the teeth. They also argue that fluoridating public water supplies is forced medication of the general public. Some holistic dentists are for topical fluoride and some are against it. 

Not always black and white 

Individual dental professionals may fall into one classification or the other—traditional or holistic, and yet be in the other camp on different issues.   

The real difference between holistic and traditional dentistry is essentially philosophical: traditional dentistry is the practice of treating symptoms in the teeth and gums and attempting to prevent such problems from reoccurring. Holistic dentistry is the practice of treating the underlying issues that cause symptoms in the mouth, attempting to eliminate those problems while ensuring the work done in the mouth does not have an adverse affect on overall health. 

Which one for you? 

So how do you find a dentist that’s right for you; a professional whose philosophies align with your own? Start by asking questions such as “How often do you think I need to get x-rays” and  “How would you determine which type of filling is right for me?” The answers you receive will hold clues to the practitioner’s mind-set. If you’re looking for a holistic dentist, listen for answers that show the role your oral health plays in your overall well-being. If you want a traditional dentist, seek answers that address attention to physical symptom management. 

Some of the principles of holistic dentistry are rooted in the teachings of Weston A. Price, D.D.S. (1870-1948), who maintained the existence of a strong connection between diet and oral health. In 1939 Price published Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, detailing his studies of the diets of various cultures. Through his research he concluded that a modern Western diet—and especially the consumption of flour, sugar and processed fats—causes nutritional deficiencies that are ultimately to blame for many dental issues and health problems. 

Today, the Weston A. Price Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism.