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Why are ‘holistic’ dentists on the rise?

They treat the whole body, not just teeth

When was the last time your dentist recommended meditation and eating kale as a way to a healthier mouth? Suggested a daily probiotic? Or had a cranial sacral therapist give you a treatment in the chair?

We didn’t think so.

But these are exactly the services you might find at the office of a holistic dentist, also sometimes called a biological or integrative dentist. The Holistic Dental Assn. has 267 active members nationwide. The numbers are growing for a few reasons, including acknowledgment that the teeth and gums should be considered vital to the rest of the body, and vice versa; also, concern over the effect mercury amalgam fillings might have on a person’s health. “The growth is definitely patient-driven,” said Dawn Ewing, executive director of the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, a network of dentists.

Holistic dentists fill cavities, clean teeth and make bridges and implants. But they also are rooted in the concept that when treating teeth, you must consider the entire body — diet, lifestyle, mental and emotional health. Most also seek to use technology that minimizes exposure to harmful chemicals — for the patient, staff and doctor, as well as the environment.

“Conventional Western dentistry tends to decapitate you,” says Dr. David Villarreal, a biological dentist who practices in Newbury Park. (Holistic dentists all have either a degree of doctor of dental surgery or doctor of medical dentistry.) “Most treat your mouth as an independent entity, which just doesn’t make sense to us. What’s the first thing a horse veterinarian does?” Villarreal asked. “They look in the horse’s mouth, which tells them a lot about the horse’s body and health.”

For the most part, holistic dentists don’t use fluoride in their practices, and they prefer herbal and traditional products and remedies. Virtually all of their offices are mercury-free — many also mercury-safe (more on that later) — and most use what they feel are safer and less invasive restoration materials. Some use cranial-sacral massage to soothe and relieve pain.

What’s in your mouth?

Approximately 50% of a dental amalgam filling is elemental mercury by weight. Which brings us to a central concern of holistic dentists: the mercury in your mouth.

“A major part of my consideration is the removal of heavy metals from a patient’s mouth,” Villarreal said, “and my protocol is designed to protect the patient, doctor and staff, and the environment. Then I concern myself with what I’m going to replace the amalgams with.” Biological and holistic dentists use fillings and composites that they believe are safer than amalgam fillings.

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