Holistic Dentistry

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. For example, tooth decay is a common dental disease that is treated by removing the decay and placing a dental restoration. But the filling does not eliminate the cause of the decay and more decay will develop unless the cause is treated. The cause of tooth decay is multi-factorial and not just a lack of brushing and flossing. If the pH of the patient’s saliva has a tendency to be acidic, then tooth decay will be more likely. This acid tendency is a result of systemic influences. When is the last time your dentist tested your salivary pH?  The solution to all dental disease must be found in an understanding of the patient's biology and physiology and the development of lifestyles that support good health.