My name is Kyle Hornby and I am a Family Dentist in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON. Every week, I publish a few articles to help raise the bar on oral health info available to the general public. I believe that if people know more, they can achieve better health and spend less time and money on treatment. Today, I’d like to discuss Holistic Dentistry so that you can better understand this growing movement in Dentistry.
What is Holistic Dentistry?
The term holistic in a medical sense describes care that is:
characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.
The more general definition of the word focuses on the proper understanding of a given thing in its entirety. Holistic refers to an understanding of how interconnections between smaller components interact to produce a given thing or living being. Taking a holistic approach to Dentistry means focusing on the whole patient. If they develop a cavity, the holistic Dentist tries to learn about the patients diet, their saliva flow, how they brush their teeth and for how long. In short, the holistic practitioner is a detective.
If the holistic Dentist can figure out what imbalance led to tooth decay, they talk to their patient about how to prevent future instances of oral disease. A holistic Dentist is always working toward a solution or a preventive approach. Simply repairing a cavity is only a small part of what they do.
A holistic dentist may also focus on materials used in dental treatment. They may advocate against the use of fluoride or metal fillings. They will often try to take the most natural approach to treatment that is possible.
Why is a Holistic approach important?
I’ve written before that there was an unfortunate “blind spot” in medical and dental fields for a long-time. This “blind spot” represented a lack of respect for how oral health affects systemic health and vice versa. I think that a major reason for this shortcoming in medical and dental care arose because we have separate providers for oral healthcare and systemic healthcare, respectively. Dentists probably didn’t pay enough attention to how a patient’s overall medical condition was affecting their oral health. At the same time, Physicians didn’t often look inside their patients’ mouths to look for signs of inflammation, gum disease, and other factors that would have had a negative effect on overall health.
And, to be honest, Doctors and Dentists should have probably talked more.
Now, as the holistic, “functional” or “wellness” model gains momentum, you’re more likely to have a Dentist that focuses on the things you eat, your quality of sleep, your systemic health and other factors that could explain what’s going on in your mouth. The holistic Dentist has a philosophy that is better suited to finding solutions when problems arise.
Is holistic Dentistry more expensive?
Probably not. Most Dentists determine costs using the Ontario Dental Association (ODA) Fee Guide. If you live in another province, they’ll follow the applicable fee guide. This means that their is a standard or general reference document for dental fees. So, generally, a holistic Dentist’s services will cost pretty much the same amount as would be charged by a non-holistic Dentist.
Now, if your Holistic Family Dentist recommends additional treatments, diagnostic tests, or supplements that your dental insurance does not cover then, yes, you’ll pay more.
The key is to always request that a pre-determination be sent to your insurance company so you can understand what they’ll cover and what they won’t. You may decide that any additional treatments, tests or supplements are worth the extra cost and decide to pay for them yourself. But, overall, awareness of fees is key!
In some ways, holistic Dentistry may save you money. Generally, a holistic practitioner will try to modify or arrest a disease process first before recommending treatment or intervention. They may try to re-mineralize small cavities to stop them in their tracks over the traditional “drill and fill” approach. If you have somebody caring for you that’s more conservative and less intervention-driven, you’re likely to save money in the long run.
Is Holistic Dentistry covered by my insurance?
Yes and No. If you see a Holistic Dentist and they provide a routine dental service such as dental cleaning, dental fillings, dental crowns or wisdom tooth extraction, your insurance plan provider will have the same rules for coverage as would be the case if you saw a non-holistic Dentist. As long as your Holistic Dentist is registered to practice in your province, state or country your insurance provider will view them in the same light as a traditional Dentist.
Things are less predictable when your Holistic Dentist recommends a treatment, diagnostic test or supplement that your dental insurance does not cover. For example, a Holistic Dentist is more likely to recommend herbs and supplements and certain diagnostic tests (i.e. for jaw issues or obstructive sleep apnea) compared to a non-holistic Dentist. Your insurance company may not view these things as eligible expenses meaning that they will not cover them.
The best approach is always to have your Dentist submit a pre-determination for treatment costs to your insurance provider. This will help you to determine if what the Dentist is recommending will be covered by insurance.
What do Holistic Dentists use for fillings?
Generally, a holistic dentist will frown upon the use of amalgam or mercury-containing fillings. Some may believe that these fillings are toxic despite a lack of peer-reviewed research to support that claim. Most Dentists, holistic and traditional, now use composite resin or “white fillings” and so this has become the default restorative material in Dentistry.
It’s important to meet with any holistic Dentist to discuss their philosophies before joining their practice. Not all holistic practitioners believe the same thing. For a time, some Dentists were claiming to take a holistic approach solely on the basis of a non-mercury approach. Specifically, they recommended patients replace all mercury-containing fillings with the standard composite resin ones. However, holistic dentistry is more than just an anti-mercury stance.
It is also important to note that replacing your mercury-containing fillings can actually spike your exposure levels. When you remove these fillings you create both mercury-containing particles in the saliva and you vaporize mercury-containing compounds. Some dentists claim that they use a rubber dam barrier and special suction system to ensure zero exposure but these systems are not perfect. I’m not suggesting that you don’t replace your mercury-containing fillings but I’d like to encourage you to ask your Dentist more questions about safety and potential risks!
What are some of the things most Holistic Dentists focus on?
Do you breath through your mouth? Do you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea that you’re not aware of? Why do these things matter? Well, mouth breathing can affect skeletal development in children and it can also dry out your mouth creating an environment that favours more harmful kinds of bacteria? Sleep apnea can have a myriad of negative effects and can also lead to intense clenching and grinding that can damage your teeth and jaws. Holistic Dentists focus on how you sleep. They can arrange diagnostic tests and sleep studies to make sure you’re getting the most out of sleep time.
Is your diet supplying your teeth and gums with what they need for optimal health? Are you getting enough Calcium and Phosphorus in your diet to bolster your tooth enamel? Do you consume enough Vitamin C for immunity and to help collagen synthesis for healthy gums? A Holistic Dentist will want to make sure you’re consuming the right building blocks to keep your dental and overall health on point.
Many holistic Dentists prefer that their patients avoid fluoride in toothpaste and drinking water. Many patients still need some kind of supplement to help their enamel resist decay. There are many no-fluoride toothpastes out there but they don’t help to keep your teeth strong. Enter Hydroxyapatite Toothpaste. Hydroxyapatite (HA) is the main building block in tooth enamel and dentin. When you use HA toothpaste, you’re feeding your teeth the very same stuff they’re made of. Sound simple? It is. Sound more natural? It is.
Many holistic Dentists will favour composite bonding (white fillings) over mercury-containing amalgam fillings. They may also offer ceramic implants over traditional titanium ones. Depending on your viewpoint about the use of biocompatible metals in your mouth, you may prefer ceramic alternatives.
Holistic Dentistry encompasses far more than just the few philosophies above. My goal was to outline a few of the more common stances taken by holistic Dentists. Any two people calling themselves Holistic Dentists may differ in their viewpoints on different topics. This underscores the importance of meeting with anybody you’re considering as a potential care provider to learn about their approach.
Root Canal Treatment
Some holistic Dentists advocate for patients to avoid root canal treatment. Root canal treatment resolves tooth infection or abscess to eliminate pain. A Holistic Dentist may believe that root canal treatment results in maintaining a tooth that can become re-infected in future. Research shows that careful, detailed and thorough root canal treatments are safe and provide great longevity. For this reason, I believe that a more reasonable approach to root canal treatment is to emphasize the importance of thorough and high-quality treatment.
Does Enamel Republic provide Holistic Dentistry in Kitchener-Waterloo?
Any Dentist can brand their clinic as a Holistic dental practice. These are just words. They don’t refer to any particular certification that exists for Holistic Dentistry. (NOTE: courses and training programs for Holistic Dentistry do exist but there is no mandatory training necessary to be able to call yourself a Holistic Dentist). What counts is your Family Dentists approach to care and, most importantly, that it resonates with what you believe in.
Given that there is no standard for Holistic Dentistry and that wide variation exists between Holistic practitioners, it’s difficult for me to say definitively if I am a holistic Dentist. At our office, we do approach dental care with an open mind and work with our patients to help them achieve maximum health while respecting their beliefs and priorities. Here are a few examples to help make our approach more clear:
Our Approach to Fluoride
I am not against the safe use of fluoridated toothpastes. However, we have a lot of parents that prefer their children minimize fluoride exposure. I really like Hydroxapatite toothpastes as an alternative to Fluoride because they still contain ingredients that fortify tooth enamel. I also like the concept of feeding your teeth natural building blocks to help them heal. Our patients often note that other Dentists lectured them on fluoride use so I’d say that, compared to the average traditional dentist, I have a far less rigid stance on fluoride use.
Tooth Decay and Cavities
When it is safe to take a non-treatment approach to early tooth decay, we do so. We always favour a conservative approach including dietary control, more brushing, flossing and use of fortifying toothpastes where safe and prudent. If a patient has early decay lesions that we can re-mineralize, we take the time to teach them how to do this. This approach allows them to raise their game to avoid future dental treatment. Unfortunately, some tooth decay lesions get to a depth where treatment with dental fillings is necessary. In these instances, we recommend the most conservative and responsible approach to the placement of dental fillings.
I don’t advocate for replacement of amalgam fillings unless they are breaking down or no longer functioning correctly. If an amalgam filling is in good condition, I won’t recommend to replace it. If a patient believes that their amalgam fillings are unhealthy for them and they ask us to replace them, we do so only after a thorough discussion regarding potential risks. It is important to note that amalgam filling replacement can occasionally result in nerve irritation and some teeth don’t heal afterward. In these cases, root canal treatment or tooth extraction may be necessary so it’s important for patients to be aware of all risks in advance of elective replacement of silver fillings.
Our Overall Approach to Diagnosis & Treatment
In the tradition of Holistic Dentistry, we take an investigative approach to dental health. If we can learn more about why you’re getting cavities or gum disease to help you solve the problem, we make every effort to do so. If you keep coming back with cavities and we’re placing dental fillings each year without a preventive solution, I don’t feel like I’ve done a proper job as your Family Dentist. So we’ll always try to get to the root cause of any problem you’re experiencing. If dry mouth, tooth grinding, sleep apnea, soda pop consumption or systemic disease (to name only a few factors) are causing cavities, gum disease or jaw problems, we’ll help you to figure out a preventive solution. Can we call our approach holistic? That’s for you to decide!
Our Take Home Message on Holistic Dentistry
Overall, I believe that Holistic Dentistry brings with it a spirit of investigation and an integrative view of human health. Holistic Dentists are driven to understand how the entire body and external factors combine to produce disease states. They strive to understand the root cause of cavities and gum disease in a given patient so they can address these causes and provide solutions. For most holistic Dentists, the ideal outcome is preventing the need for dental treatment. I think that, overall, this is a good thing.
The key with exploring holistic Dentistry is making sure that the philosophies of any given practitioner are in alignment with your ideals and priorities. You might not be well-served by joining a practice aimed at turning you into a disciple of their belief system. I believe that the best relationships exist when a patient feels comfortable and welcome to challenge their Dentist’s ideas. You should feel comfortable asking questions and seeking transparency. If you are seeking a Holistic Dentist, try to find somebody that would be okay with you not believing in everything that they do.
I hope this article has been helpful to you. If you have any questions at all, please reach out at email@example.com (Attn: Dr. Kyle), and I’ll get right back to you!
As always, thank you for reading.
By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener-Waterloo Dentist
Our Kitchener Dental Office is conveniently located in Downtown Kitchener. We are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.