Holistic, Natural Dentistry, and Oral Care

Health experts recommend regular visits to the dentist for cleanings and oral health maintenance. But so much of current dentistry has the potential to add to the toxic build-up of the human body. With issues such as mercury amalgam fillings and fluoride toxicity coming to light recently, many people have been questioning the methods of traditional dentistry, and turning to more natural, holistic options when it comes to their oral care needs.

Though widely used in the past, amalgam fillings, which are equal parts silver and mercury, have received a bad rap as of late. Mercury toxicity has been linked to neurological damages, gastrointestinal problems, immune system weakening, kidney damage, blood cell disorders, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that the average person receives far more exposure from existing amalgam fillings than from say, certain types of fish, which we are advised to consume rarely.

Another, less-publicized issue in the dental industry is that of fluoride. Added to drinking water supplies for decades and found in toothpaste, fluoride is actually the ionic form of the reactive gas fluorine. The United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or (ATSDR) lists fluorine compounds as among the top 20 materials most harmful to human health. Fluoride is the primary ingredient in rat poison, some pesticides, and nerve gas.

Most humans receive a cumulative exposure to fluorine compounds and fluoride through the environment, as well as the water we drink. Household products, as well as pesticide sprays and Teflon pans all create exposure to fluoride.

Over 90% of the fluoride that we get in our drinking water is made up of sodium fluoride, hexafluoro silicic acid, and sodium fluorosilicate. These, believe it or not, are obtained from industrial waste primarily from the aluminum industry, which has never been approved for human consumption. If it wasn’t sold to the government to put into our water, these industries would have to pay to remove their excess fluoride as toxic waste.

Even the American Dental Association is revising its recommendations for the amount of fluoride used in children’s dental treatments, because in our modern world, a toxic, cumulative build-up of fluoride, called fluorosis, is more common than not enough fluoride. Too much fluoride can cause mottling or darkening of the teeth, weakened bones, and neurological problems.

Aside from mercury and fluoride, the dental industry uses many chemicals, plastic compounds, metals, etc., which cannot be good for our collective health. As a result, many people are turning to mercury-free dentistry, or holistic (also called biological) dentists for their oral health needs.

One of the first tasks holistic dentists may undertake is to remove the mercury fillings of their patients. They then provide nutritional support to help detoxify the body, such as chlorella and vitamin supplementation. They may also use a process called chelation, by which certain peptides or vitamins are ingested which bind to heavy metals and carry them out of the body. Cranial-sacral work can either be done with the holistic dentist or referred to a specialist. Cranial-sacral manipulation can realign the skull and spinal bones, relieving toothaches, jaw pain, or TMJ.

Holistic means ‘concerned with the whole’, rather than just the parts, of a person in terms of their oral health and dental care needs. So a holistic dentist may recommend dietary and lifestyle changes to better support general health as well as specifically oral/dental care.

Holistic dentists may also support an emphasis on mental/physical/spiritual well-being of their patients, and recommend various techniques such as yoga, meditation, or chakra alignment to further improve the body’s relationship with the mouth and teeth. In addition, many dental patients have painful emotional memories from negative dental experiences, and a holistic dentist will look at that as well.

In short, a holistic dentist will examine the whole picture of a patient, including his or her emotional attachments, physical health, alignment, diet, lifestyle, etc., in deciding upon a treatment plan. At the Holistic Dental Association website (www.holisticdental.org), you can find a directory to a holistic dentist near you.

There is also a lot that the average person can do at home to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Gum disease is a very common, yet preventable problem. Gingivitis, or simple gum irritation, is caused by improper dental hygiene. If not treated or reversed, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, in which the pocket between the gums and teeth grows larger, harboring infection and causing bone loss around the teeth. The number one cause of tooth loss is periodontal disease.

In addition, poor oral hygiene can create far more serious problems, as the tissue around the teeth is a direct link to the bloodstream. Heart problems have been linked to periodontal infections, as well as premature births in pregnant women, and those with chronic inflammatory conditions. Holistic dental practitioners would argue that it is not possible to have a healthy body with unhealthy gums.

But with simple, proper care, gums can remain pink and healthy, which also helps with issues such as bad breath and tooth decay. In fact, overall good oral hygiene can be easily accomplished naturally, at home:

  • The three most important actions one can take to keep teeth and gums healthy are 1) floss, 2) floss regularly, and 3) floss every day. The importance of flossing cannot be overstated – it’s the most important thing you can do to maintain the health of your mouth.
  • Use a soft-bristle toothbrush. Dental experts say that the gum erosion they are seeing is likely due to too-forceful brushing, or brushing with a toothbrush that is too firm. It’s important to gently stimulate gums, not scrape them away!
  • Buy a toothpaste that is made from natural ingredients, and if possible, fluoride-free. Many toothpastes use ingredients like baking soda, carrageenan (a seaweed thickener), glycerin, propolis, and anti-bacterial herbs to clean teeth, or silica particles for whitening toothpaste. Tom’s of Maine has a good line of natural toothpastes, including some formulated without fluoride. Jason’s offers non-fluoride toothpastes with anti-bacterial seed extracts or tea-tree oil, though the website doesn’t say which of the pastes are fluoride-free. Or, you can make your own natural toothpaste by mixing baking soda, salt, and glycerin. This recipe is also good for all-natural at-home tooth-whitening. (Hydrogen peroxide can be used, but isn’t recommended for at-home use because some say it can facilitate tooth erosion).
  • Buy an inexpensive rubber-tipped gum stimulator. These can be found easily at any drugstore, and when used properly, can be a beneficial tool in your arsenal for healthy gums.
  • If you must use a mouthwash, consider one which uses natural ingredients, and no alcohol. With proper brushing and oral care, bad breath shouldn’t be a problem. But some people still like to use mouthwash. Alcohol, which is found in many mainstream products, serves only to dry the mouth, which ultimately worsens bad breath and limits the mouth’s ability to flush bacteria. Both Tom’s and JASON have alcohol-free mouthwashes, as does Desert Essence, which also carries fluoride-free toothpaste.

If you think about it, there isn’t much that’s more important than having a healthy mouth with clean teeth, healthy gums, and fresh breath. Our smiles are our first impression to the world.

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