The terms “wholistic” and “holistic” have been used, misused, abused and misinterpreted. I cannot clearly define these terms, but I will discuss the historical, practical, and philosophical meanings as they relate to dentistry. First, a bit of history and the philosophical basis of holistic dentistry. Holistic dentistry does not just treat the symptoms of dental disease such as placing a filling after removing decay on a tooth with a cavity. It advocates treating the PROBLEMS that cause the symptoms such as a poor diet. Secondly, Holistic dentistry insists that the services performed and the materials used do not adversely affect the overall health of the patient.
The “father of Holistic dentistry” was Weston Price. Born in 1870, he was a Dentist and researcher who developed the “Theory of Focal Infection”, and performed extensive nutritional research linking diet and dental disease. At that time, root canal fillings were not cemented and had high failure rates. He recommended extraction of all these teeth to prevent systemic infection. He also was opposed to silver amalgam fillings because they contained mercury. The “elder statesman of Holistic dentistry” was Dr. Hal Huggins, who insisted that all silver amalgam fillings.
Some beliefs have a lot of truth associated with them, and some are considered quackery by mainstream dentists. I have reviewed much of the research; Theories about “cavitations”, for instance, are completely unscientific. There are degrees of adherence to the concept of “Holistic”, some of which, such as “Biological dentistry” include avoiding fluoride, amalgam and conventional bonding materials, bio compatibility testing prior to using dental materials on the patient, and Chinese medicine, Homeopathy and Energy medicine.
Finally, I will summarize the beliefs and practices of “middle-of-the-road” self-proclaimed Holistic dentists and state my own positions on these topics:
1) Avoiding the use of silver amalgam fillings because they contain mercury, a heavy metal toxin.
2) Recommending extraction instead of root canals because we cannot remove 100% of the bacteria inside the root canal and this causes long term health problems. Note: Many Holistic dentists are not opposed to root canal treatment.
3) Opposition to Fluoride ingestion in drinking water, and it’s usage in dental materials, fluoride applications, etc., because Fluoride is toxic. Note: Many Holistic dentists are not opposed to topical fluoride applications and toothpastes because they are not significantly absorbed by the body.
4) Avoiding the use of bonding materials that contain bis-GMA, a known hormone disrupter that mimics estrogen.
5) Advocating for good nutrition, including avoiding processed foods and sugar, consuming Whole food, organic fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy lifestyles including excercise.
The ancient Greeks said that anything you are exposed to or consume in a great enough amount can kill you. Regarding mercury in silver amalgam fillings, remember chemistry 101; the difference between an element and a compound. When elements are combined to form a compound, the properties of the elements change. Chlorine is a toxic gas, but sodium chloride is table salt which we ingest daily. Does it smell like chlorine? Likewise, exposure to mercury is limited to the time it takes for it to set and form a compound. Your urine mercury levels will spike that day and this is why I will not place a silver filling on a pregnant woman. Mercury exposure is minimal, and I am phasing out the use of these materials, but if you want to limit mercury exposure for goodness sake, limit consumption of fish that are high in mercury!
I perform root canals and many of them last over 20 years, however there may be some very low grade aspects of infection associated with them over time which the body tolerates. When symptoms develop or appear on x-ray, it is time to remove or retreat. The Greeks were right when it comes to fluoride. One part per million in the drinking water is safe and foods contain fluoride as well. Out West, the ambient drinking water contains 8-9 parts per million, but is considered safe – perhaps not. I have bonding materials that do not contain bis-GMA, but please ask me to use them because I use both. Lastly, I am a big advocate for good nutrition and the basic principles of Holistic dentistry.