Holistic dentistry has not been a field widely embraced by dental professionals. But the tide is turning, with more patients—and now dentists—recognising its healing powers.
The face of dentistry is changing. Not just because of all the snazzy new equipment on the market, but also in the practitioner’s approach to patient health. To this end, holistic dentistry is coming on strong, with a growing number of patients now seeking this kind of treatment—and, in turn, more practitioners specialising in the practice. But just how does it differ from traditional dentistry?
Dr David Cowhig, of Queensland Holistic Dental, believes it’s important not to focus on the differences, but instead recognise how the two practices complement one another. “Holistic dentistry integrates the philosophies of traditional and complementary medicine with the practice of dental excellence. It works with many traditional and complementary practitioners.”
Dr Ron Ehrlich, of Sydney’s Holistic Dental Centre, agrees, claiming the philosophy of holistic dentistry falls directly
under general medicine—and a patient’s overall health.
“Holistic dentistry relates your oral health to your general health. We started practicing along these lines in 1983, and 24 years later it really doesn’t seem like such a radical idea,” he says. “The body is all connected. The same blood that flows through an infected gum or tooth flows through the rest of the body.”
Despite the connection, mainstream and holistic dentistry is still somewhat at odds, with professionals on either side of the treatment fence approaching patients’ oral health needs differently. It’s this aspect that hits a nerve with holistic naysayers. But Ehrlich believes the negativity is unwarranted: “We are talking about the way the whole body is inter-connected. That is the essence of holistic healthcare. Most patients really don’t have trouble understanding that,” he argues. “What is there not to believe in?”
“If periodontal disease is now well documented to effect general health, infections in teeth and jaw bones also have the potential to harm. We need to be more open to this,” Ehrlich says. “We’ve also lost our way in understanding the treatment of headaches, which on the one hand involves prescription drugs, and on the other hand, orthodontic or reconstruction treatment in the guise of solving the problem.”
“In my opinion, the main hurdle holistic dentistry has to overcome is the move away from the negative aspects that ‘holistic’ represents, towards a more mainstream idea of dentistry—especially with the anti-this and anti-that groups—that allows dentists
to market themselves as representing a positive, preventative philosophy,” Cowhig says. “It’s a philosophy attracting a large percentage of the population who want better health and wellbeing. In this way, more GPs will be attracted to the field, primarily encouraged by patients’ demands.”
When it comes to their health, patients want advice on the ‘whole package’. And they’re also approaching dentists with more complex complaints than a sore tooth— there are more headaches and TMJ dysfunction, causing ear and neck pain.
While traditional dentists will look for traditional solutions, holistic dentists take a broader approach. An example is the promotion of drug-free pain management to to deal with several dental complaints such as inflammation, infection, stress, bruxism, TMD, anxiety and post-surgical recovery. “Holistic dentistry accepts the fact that the health of the mouth—soft tissue, dentition, periodontium, jaw bones—and its function has a major impact on the patient’s overall health and wellbeing,” says Cowhig.
“Clenching of the jaw muscles, for example, affects the muscles through the rest of the body—particularly those in the back of the neck and head. This kind of problem also plays a significant role in the treatment of tension headaches, neck aches and migraines,” states Ehrlich.
In fact, Cowhig says new research has strengthened the case for a holistic approach, verifying connections between oral health and illness like cardiovascular disease, diabetes or premature births. “In the future, all dentists may one day proclaim that they are holistic,” he says.
The future of holistic dentistry does look bright, as the benefits become more evident both within the dental industry and with the general public. “Healthcare during the last century has been characterised by compartmentalising specialities, which has yielded some great advances in our understanding. But healthcare in the 21st Century will be characterised by putting that knowledge together in a holistic approach. I imagine dentistry will find another word for it in the next 10 years, but we are all moving in that direction,” Ehrlich says.
“The future direction of dentistry is developing at a rapid rate, and any dentist —either traditional or holistic— needs to keep up to date with these scientific advances. The field avoids the use of metals in the mouth, and now with the inception of all ceramic zirconia crowns and bridges, as well as future ceramic implants, it is very exciting,” says Cowhig.
But for now, holistic dentists still face some significant obstacles. “Healthcare delivery is a great challenge for us all. Learning more about the body and how best to promote its ability towards homeostasis and general good health is a challenge for all of us—both practitioners and patients alike.
Both Ehrlich and Cowhig are ready to face the challenges and focus on healing patients with the best treatments available. “As a holistic dentist, I find this to be an exciting time. I hope the rest of the profession agrees.”