You may be familiar with alternative medical treatments, such as acupuncture and herbal remedies. You may have also heard that some dentists offer these and other unconventional methods to treat teeth. These dentists are often called holistic dentists, biological dentists or alternative dentists, and the Los Angeles Times recently reported that their numbers are increasing. Before you decide to see a holistic dentist, it's important to know how holistic dentistry differs from conventional dentistry.
Holistic vs. Standard Dentists
Alternative or holistic dentists differ from standard dentists in significant ways. The Los Angeles Times article notes that holistic dentists prefer to use herbal remedies and don't generally use fluoride. They also don't use mercury in their practices and may remove patients' metal fillings to replace them with mercury-free alternatives. In addition, these dentists may not recommend root canal treatment. For instance, a paper published by the International Academy of Biological Dentistry & Medicine, a biological dentists' association, claims that the procedure is linked to systemic disease.
Conventional dentistry, on the other hand, is based on sound scientific principles and utilizes treatments — including root canals — that have been clinically proven to be both safe and effective, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Holistic dentists may use methods or products that differ from generally accepted dental practices, and the ADA emphasizes that these unconventional methods should be studied to determine their safety and effectiveness.
Why People See Holistic Dentists
Individuals with concerns about mercury exposure may choose to see a holistic dentist. Metal dental fillings, also called amalgam fillings, are silver-colored fillings made of a combination of metals, including mercury. The ADA reports that the levels of mercury in dental amalgam fillings are safe. Plus, the ADA reassures patients that there are several kinds of mercury, and the kind in dental fillings isn't the same kind that can build up in fish and cause health problems. Many organizations, including the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration, agree that metal dental fillings pose no health risk.
People may also choose to visit a holistic dentist because they want to avoid root canal treatment. Some sites on the internet warn that people who get root canals are more likely to get various diseases, but this is misinformation. The American Association of Endodontists (AAE) explains that these claims are based on poorly designed, century-old studies, and no current scientific evidence supports the claim that root canals cause health issues elsewhere in the body.
Potential Risks of Holistic Dentistry
Since holistic dentists generally don't recommend fluoride, their patients may be at risk of tooth decay. As the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research explains, fluoride has been shown to prevent cavities in both children and adults. People are exposed to fluoride from municipal water supplies and from products such as toothpaste and mouthwash, but fluoride can also be applied by dentists. Standard dentists may recommend applications of fluoride varnish or gel.
A holistic dentist who doesn't offer root canal treatment may recommend pulling out problem teeth. While pulling a tooth may seem like the better option, the AAE emphasizes that your natural teeth should be retained whenever possible. Plus, missing teeth can make it harder for you to chew, and other teeth may shift into the gap left by the missing teeth.
Remember that regular dental appointments and good daily dental hygiene help to keep your oral health in check. See a dentist that's a member of the ADA twice a year, as they use treatments that are proven to be safe and effective.