Improving dental health with a holistic approach– Laura Lane
While we might not even be aware of it, the health of our teeth and gums has a huge impact on our daily life - from our overall health and comfort to our confidence and self-esteem. In this article I will be looking at holistic approaches to dentistry, something that I have used myself.
Oral health can be impacted by many factors: genetics, dental hygiene habits, and diet – some of which we can control, while others such as age and genetics can be trickier to control. We have to look at our teeth and gum health as holistically as possible and make sure we're giving it all the attention it deserves.
Like everything that is related to health – preventing issues before they happen is always better, cheaper, and less complicated than trying to cure things after they have gone wrong.
What is holistic dentistry?
Holistic dental care (sometimes known as biological dentistry) is an alternative approach to dentistry which considers all of your overall health as it relates to your dental health. A holistic dentist may ask you questions about your emotions, well-being, diet and exercise patterns and habits, and other things you might not think of as being related to the health of your teeth nor questioned at your regular dentist.
There’s a focus on using non-toxic restorative materials, eliminating infections, and promoting op teeth / jaw / head / neck structural relationships.
How does it differ from my usual dentist?
Here are a few examples of areas where holistic dentistry may vary from modern mainstream dentistry at our regular dental practice.
Most mainstream dentists use and recommend fluoride toothpaste and fluoride treatments. Holistic dentists do not generally recommend or use fluoride. This is due to the fact that many holistic dentists remain unconvinced of the scientific evidence of fluoride in preventing cavities when applied to the teeth.
Some people worry about the possible build-up of fluoride inside of the body. They think that, even if fluoride helped to prevent cavities, putting it in your mouth on a regular basis may allow absorption into the mouth lining and into the blood stream. If this does happen, it might accumulate and could cause other health problems in the future.
The human mouth lining is extremely absorbent so holistic dentists might feel that it’s best to try to prevent cavities without using flouride, to remove the risk of absorption as fluoride is a chemical substance that some people believe is linked to some negative health effects, though the NHS and Public Health England do not support these claims. .
Holistic dentists may feel that amalgam is not safe to keep in our mouths. It is a mixture of metals and half is mercury. Mercury can slowly release elemental mercury as a vapour, which can leak into the enamel tubes of the teeth. This can cause teeth to appear grey or dark blue and make them brittle over time and has been linked to other health risks, related to mercury.
Although amalgam fillings are considered safe for adults and children over 6, it is possible to ask for alternatives such as porcelain or composite resins, which can be made of materials such as silica, ceramics and plastics. There are other downsides with these options, which may cost more or might not last as long, so we shouldn’t all rush out and have our amalgam fillings changed. If you are opting for a more holistic approach though, you could consider exchanging them when they break down.
Root Canal treatment
Some holistic dentists are concerned with the effect of root canals on the bacteria in the mouth. There is some evidence that dental root canal procedures may lead to the proliferation of increased numbers of ‘bad bacteria’ in and on the gums, which may infiltrate the blood stream and lead to other health problems later on. In ‘mainstream’ dentistry, this risk is considered manageable and planned for as part of the decision process to perform the procedure. One reason for this difference might be that holistic dentistry teaches that microscopic bacteria cannot be completely eradicated and may even be transferred to more dangerous areas through root canal treatments. Laser treatments are also now being used to treat root canal issues depending on the length of the canal.
What can we do?
One of the ways we develop tooth decay is to maintain a mouth pH that is too acidic. At a pH of 5.5 or below the teeth begin to demineralize, which can then lead to cavities. When the saliva has a pH of 7.5 or above, it means teeth can become stronger and can actually remineralizer, meaning stronger enamel and less decay. Good news for us!
The main sugars that can cause us problems are glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose. You can find glucose I fruit, sugar, milk and pasta so most carbohydrates. Sucrose is found in chocolate, ice cream and yoghurts, fructose in canned fruit, fizzy drinks and even honey. Finally, maltose is normally found in milkshakes, bread, sweets and some breakfast cereals.
We can boost the alkalinity of our mouth by eating more fresh fruit and veg and nuts too. This will in turn help the body to function and neutralise ph levels within our mouths and maintain a healthy level.
Flossing and Brushing
We all know and have been told on numerous occasions how important it is that we are brushing and flossing our teeth but, sometimes, it is easier said than done. Lots of things can get in the way of a proper tooth-brushing routine, including social norms (we don’t always brush our teeth during the day after food), health barriers and life in general!
If we are serious about looking after our teeth and gums it’s important that we are brushing after eating. Removing food and debris from the teeth can prevent plaque from forming and thus prevent harmful bacteria multiplying, and ph from becoming too acidic. If brushing and flossing isn’t an option during the day, make sure you thoroughly swish water around your mouth to loosen any debris and rinse the teeth of any sugars. This is not perfect, but is better than doing nothing.
Using an electric toothbrush has been found to reduce plaque 21 percent more than a manual brush and also help to reduce gingivitis occurring. People who use the rotate method generally have cleaner teeth than those that brush back and forth.
When considering a holistic approach to toothpaste, when you are looking at the labels, it is a good idea to look out for the following ingredients which are all considered beneficial, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), green tea, Eucalyptol, menthol, tea tree oil and vitamin D.
With regards to the type of floss that is used, if you are considering a holistic approach, the old-fashioned nylon kind might be best or you could try out flosses made of biodegradable silk or bamboo or those infused with antimicrobial tea tree oil. Or you might even consider a water flosser. I use a water flosser and they are great….so powerful! Water flossers may be easier to use for people who have issues with dexterity, but may be more difficult for those with poor grip strength. Like in all holistic healthcare, it’s important to consider the individual and their needs, rather than apply a blanket approach to care.
We sometimes use mouthwashes to freshen our mouths but did you know these often contain alcohol? Instead, you can use a healthy green tea as a mouthwash, as well as drinking it. It helps to protect teeth from erosion and promotes healthy gums. Catechins found in green tea have the potential to kill bacteria associated with tooth decay and gum disease and have anti inflammatory powers to help control and prevent cavities.
I had never really heard of this method before becoming a dental nurse but it is really effective! Have you ever looked at your togue and seen a greyish or white coating? This is a build-up of dead cells, food particles and bacteria! Cleaning the tongue properly and regularly is an incredibly important part of overall oral health and hygiene, and it's very easy to do. Tongue scrapers are a small, slightly rounded tool, typically made from metal or plastic, that scrapes the surface of the tongue removing any build up. This simple step can improve the smell of breath, and also eliminate bacteria that may otherwise be contributing to tooth decay and gum disease.
This is a new method I had not heard about until I researched holistic therapy but it’s an ancient ayurvedic remedy. Swishing a spoonful of organic coconut oil around the mouth and through teeth for 10-20 minutes is believed to help to reduce plaque and fungal infections. The oils are a natural antibacterial method and might also help to eliminate strains of bacteria linked to bad breath.
Holistic dentists may also suggest changing your diet to include foods with less sugar, fewer sticky carbonated beverages, and meals which, in general, are better for both your teeth and the rest of your body.
How does the holistic approach benefit?
As with many dental treatment options and techniques, holistic dentistry is something you may wish to incorporate alongside your current dental routine, or just explore further to support your overall knowledge of different approaches to dental care..
Hopefully this article serves helps you as a starting point in learning about holistic dentistry and other less conventional approaches to dental health and overall wellness.
Laura is an experienced and driven Dental Nurse with a real passion for learning new theory and skills. Laura feels it’s important to continue learning to better yourself and keep your brain active. Laura’s day job is in Further Education as an assessor in business and dental qualifications and she loves it! In her spare time, Laura loves to escape from the world through going running and spending time with her family.