The term holistic is controversial and conjures up a variety of responses depending on personal experience. Since experiential learning forms our belief systems, each of us will relate differently to the term holistic.
In my view, holistic dentistry means dental health and systemic health, or the health of the whole body, are interrelated. Therefore, the health of the body can affect the health of the mouth, and the health of the mouth can also affect health in the rest of the body.
Can it be possible that dental disease is related to the health of the rest of the body? There is no simple answer to this question. But more and more research indicates disease in one system of the body (such as the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, the nervous system) will cause other systems of the body to experience physiologic and metabolic stress. For example:
The endocrine system is a system of glands in the body that secrete hormones. Adrenaline, a hormone also known as epinephrine, and cortisol are produced by the adrenal gland during stressful life experiences. Stress has been found to be a contributing factor to both heart disease and a dental disease known as TMD or TMJ. Therefore, the health and response of the endocrine system is related to both the dental system and the cardiovascular system in some way.
A dental disease known as periodontal disease, which is extremely common in adults, has been shown to be predictive of heart disease. In other words, people with periodontal disease have high rates of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, the health of the dental system and the cardiovascular system are likely interrelated in some way.
Diabetes Mellitus is a disease caused by what is now believed to be an autoimmune response in which the pancreas produces a decreased amount of a hormone called insulin. This disease also potentially leads to periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, the health of the immune system, the endocrine system, the dental system and the cardiovascular system are likely all affected in some related way.
The interconnections of the body’s systems are central to proper metabolic function and physical health. The effort to understand and treat these interconnections is what defines a holistic approach. The solutions to dental disease can be found in biology and physiology.
Recently, as medical technology and pharmaceutical management of disease has become more complicated, doctors have found that specialization in medicine has become increasingly necessary. But, technological advancement and new drugs have not solved the health care crisis. Instead they have increased the complexity and cost of treatment. As medicine and dentistry become more specialized and technically sophisticated, more of the holistic view is lost.
In my view, the answer is not more sophisticated technology and drugs to treat disease. The answer will be found in a better understanding of biology and physiology in order to create the environment in which the body can heal itself. A holistic understanding of the body’s systems and how they interrelate is necessary to prevent disease or to restore health and prevent future recurrence of disease.