The Beginner's Guide to Natural Living
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Holistic Dentistry
Visit a Holistic Dentist
Services include holistic treatment of periodontal disisease, gum disease or bleeding gums; mercury amalgam removal, composite fillings, dental implants and sometimes root canals or extractions.

An Overview of Holistic Dentistry
Holistic dentists (also known as “bio-compatible,” “biological” or natural” dentists) consider the whole person (body, mind and spirit) and his or her lifestyle when recommending treatment. They understand the importance of a healthy immune system, and utilize treatment methods that will enhance overall health and wellness. Such dentists receive the same training as their conventional counterparts, and perform the same procedures. However, a holistic dentist will use non-toxic and less toxic materials such as composite resins rather than mercury (silver) amalgam to fill cavities.

Likewise, they address root canals and periodontal disease in a holistic, non-toxic manner. Services may include removal of amalgam fillings and detoxification of residual mercury deposits. A holistic dentist often works in conjunction with other complementary health care professionals. In this chapter, we’ll discuss holistic dentistry and why to visit a holistic dentist, including fillings, root canals, fluoride use and periodontal disease treatment (bleeding gums and gum disease).

Mercury Amalgam
The use of mercury in conventional dentistry is a serious controversy, and is probably the main reason to choose a holistic dentist—holistic dentists don’t use mercury amalgam. Mercury amalgam (“silver”) fillings contain about 50% mercury, a substance more toxic than lead, cadmium or arsenic. Traditional dental authorities allege that mercury is locked into the filling, because the atomic structure of mercury is “bound” to the silver, and therefore the mercury is biologically inactive. However, recent studies conducted at the University of Alberta, Canada show that mercury vapor actually escapes and is absorbed by the rest of the body. This increases when eating or drinking hot foods and liquids, during chewing (friction releases the vapor) or when placement of an amalgam filling is next to a tooth that has been restored with gold or other metals.

Mercury released from amalgam fillings has been shown to accumulate in organs, in fetal tissue and in maternal milk. This low-level (but continuous) mercury exposure may contribute to a variety of health problems if the immune system is compromised. Studies in animals and humans have shown decreased kidney function and an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the intestines. This low-level of exposure in experimental settings causes virtually the identical neurological alteration and degeneration of brain cells found in Alzheimer’s Disease. For an excellent review of some of the compelling scientific research on amalgam mercury, see “The Scientific Case Against Amalgam,” available from the from the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology Web site www.iaomt.org.

“Silver” (mercury) amalgam fillings are a potential health risk for everyone, but are of particular concern for those who are chemically sensitive. If you have a number of amalgam fillings and/or your immune system isn’t functioning optimally, you may feel symptoms like lethargy, blurred vision, dizziness, muscle aches, numbness, etc. Consider having your amalgams removed—not only are they potentially harmful, they’re also unsightly. Natural-looking composites are healthier and more aesthetically pleasing.


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Removing “Silver” Fillings and Mercury
If you decide to have amalgam fillings removed, choose an experienced holistic dentist who follows specific protocols for protecting you from mercury exposure during the removal process, who can assess the bio-compatibility of alternative materials, and who can refer you to someone skilled in mercury detoxification. The organizations listed at the end of this chapter should be of assistance.

Though silver fillings have been used routinely for the past 150 years, dentists have always been advised to handle mercury amalgam with extreme care. Strict protocols protect the dental staff. Left over “scrap” amalgam is considered hazardous waste by the EPA, so it’s stored in a sealed, leak-proof container and taken to a certified, licensed metal recycling bin. Think about this: if the substance shouldn’t come into contact with a dentist’s fingers, should it come into contact with the more tender, often compromised tissues of the mouth—or placed anywhere near the brain, whose base lies just one inch from the roof of the mouth?

Quack, Quack, Where’s The Duck?
Those who practice holistic, mercury-free dentistry are often labeled “quacks.” Some have been harassed, or have had their licenses challenged or even revoked. Originally, a “quack” was a dentist who used silver fillings (mercury was known as quicksilver in the United States, but “quacksilver” in Europe). In 1848, the American Society of Dental Surgeons required its members to pledge NOT to use mercury amalgam in filling material. When member dentists in New York City used mercury, they were suspended for “malpractice by using silver mercury fillings.” According to Morton Walker, D.P.M. (author of Elements of Danger and 70 other books related to alternative health), the suspended fellows refused to give up their toxic ways because mercury offered an easily malleable, inexpensive filling material. They formed a new, competitive organization—the American Dental Association!

Dental Mercury–An Environmental Hazard
In 1991, the World Health Organization convened a leading panel of experts in mercury toxicology to assess various sources of mercury exposure. They concluded that the single greatest source was amalgam fillings—greater than all other sources (food, fish, air and water) combined. Dental amalgams are no longer permitted in Sweden and may not be used during pregnancy in Germany, Austria and Canada, because the mercury goes directly into the fetus.

Another concern is municipal water contamination. Whenever an amalgam filling is placed or removed, the scrap amalgam (sludge in the form of very fine particles) gets scooped up by the dental vacuum unit and goes down the drain. Wastewater treatment agencies around the country have expressed growing concern about mercury levels in dental office wastewater, and many municipalities now require dental offices to be equipped with devices that capture and keep mercury out of the wastewater.

Root Canals
About the worst news you can get during a dental checkup is that you need a “root canal.” (Most people would rather face an IRS audit than undergo a root canal!) Just what is this dreaded procedure?

Let’s look at the anatomy of a tooth: Underneath the enamel on the surface of the crown (the portion of the tooth visible above the gums) is bone-like tissue called dentin. Dental pulp (which contains nerves, arteries, veins, and lymph vessels) lies inside the dentin. The pulp extends from a pulp chamber in the crown of the tooth to the tip of the root. This is the root canal. Although teeth can have more than one root (molars, for example, have two or three roots with canals in each root), all teeth have only one pulp chamber.

When the pulp is injured or diseased, your body will try to repair and heal it; if it can’t, the pulp dies. This usually happens when bacteria invade the pulp chamber, either through a fractured tooth or a deep cavity, which can expose the pulp to the bacteria found in your own saliva. Supporting bone surrounding the tooth can be compromised or destroyed.

Root Canal Therapy
Root canal therapy involves drilling out the affected nerve and removing the pulp from the tooth. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are cleaned, sterilized, and sealed to prevent re-contamination. Although the treated tooth is no longer vital (it won't be able to sense pain, heat or cold), the natural structure of your mouth is retained, which is beneficial both structurally and aesthetically.

The procedure is controversial; some dental authorities estimate that as many as 80% of root canals are poorly done, often missing one or two roots. However, modern endodontists (root canal specialists) use computer-augmented x-rays and to find all of the roots and determine whether disease is present.

If you’re considering a root canal, you probably have some apprehension, but the procedure is usually painless under local anesthesia. Some people worry that the tooth will fall out or turn black, but a restored tooth should last as long as other teeth because, as long as the root of the treated tooth is nourished by surrounding tissues, it will remain healthy. Discoloration is unlikely,

but if appearance becomes a concern, the tooth can be bleached or veneered with porcelain or composite.

Now comes the controversy. Ideally, root canal therapy completely seals all of the canals associated with the affected tooth. However, after the nerve is drilled out, there are still several miles of microscopic tubules left and it’s impossible to fill them all. Bacteria in these tubules can continue to survive, even after “successful” root canal therapy has been completed. Careful, sophisticated laboratory analysis has been done on root material from extracted root canal treated teeth, at Affinity Labeling Technologies, Inc.,[iii] which has confirmed that significant bacterial toxins are present in many of these teeth. Presumably, these toxins can escape the porous root structure of the tooth and travel to other parts of the body. This has led many holistic oriented practitioners to recommend extraction as an alternative to root canal treatment, or to explore other alternatives.

Root Canal Alternatives
Injections next to the tooth with German isopathic remedies, procaine, homeopathics or ozone can sometimes save an infected tooth. Alternative treatments to root canals include extraction and thorough cleaning of the infected socket. If a root canal is required, then a particularly effective treatment is the use of a compound known as Endocal© (previously known as Biocalex©), which contains calcium oxide, zinc oxide and a special (ethyl/glycol/water) liquid that swells into the tubules, sealing them to prevent chronic infection.[iv] The resulting substance, calcium hydroxide, has been repeatedly demonstrated to be the most biocompatible (safe) material available.[v] The possibility of a “toxic tooth” may be significantly reduced using this material. 

Endocal© isn’t used routinely in root canal therapy because its protocol is radically different from what is usually taught in dental school, where students learn to “compact” filling material into the canal to the greatest extent possible. Because of the volumetric expansion and penetration of calcium oxide, it has to be loosely compacted, allowing room for expansion to the apex of the tooth. Most endodontic specialists are skeptical of this concept, even though there’s adequate science to substantiate it. If you can find a dentist or an endodontist who will use Endocal©, be sure it’s noted on your records, because calcium hydroxide eventually converts to calcium carbonate and won’t show up on x-rays, so a dentist you visit in the future won’t be able to see that you’ve had a root canal!

The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), considered by many to be a world leading authority on biological dentistry, has thoroughly investigated the root canal controversy in order to produce a “position paper” on this subject. They concluded that, at the present time, the available scientific evidence doesn’t give a completely clear answer of “yes” or “no” about root canal treatment. Each individual case needs to be evaluated in the context of the whole person. That’s really the core of a holistic dental practice. And in my case, two weeks before completing this book, I decided to get a root canal treatment instead of an extraction for a tooth that was causing me grief. Interestingly, though I was referred to an endodontist who uses Endocal, he suggested, and I agreed to, the use of the other filler: gutta percha. So, each of us must make the best decision we can, based on our personal circumstances.

Periodontal Disease
If your gums are red, puffy or bleed easily when you floss, you may be one of the three out of four Americans over twenty with some form of periodontal, or gum disease (some holistic dentists think the figure is closer to 90%).[vi] What is periodontal disease? The beginning stage is known as gingivitis, while the advanced stage is called periodontitis. To understand this serious, yet avoidable dental malady, let’s look at how teeth are held in the mouth.

Teeth aren’t embedded in the jawbones, but are totally surrounded by the periodontal membrane, a specialized tissue that acts as a shock absorber for the tooth. This membrane is actually a continuation of gum tissue that covers all of the bone in the mouth and all but the crown of each tooth. The periodontal membrane has thousands of tiny fibers called periodontal ligaments that attach teeth and bone. In a healthy mouth, there’s a slight space between the tooth and the bone, called a pocket, which is usually about two to three millimeters deep.

Bacteria in the mouth like to collect into a sticky film called plaque, especially in protected areas like this two to three millimeters space under the gums. If this plaque isn’t removed regularly (and effectively) with home care techniques, and if the body’s resistance is low, then this bacterial plaque begins to overwhelm the immune system, and periodontal disease begins.

This can progress to create deeper pockets, and more infection, often with little or no symptoms that the patient is aware of. Periodontal disease can have other contributing factors such as stress, excessive pressure on a tooth caused by grinding, or from an asymmetrical bite. Excessive pressure on a tooth can also cause disintegration of the underlying bone. Poor fitting dental restorations can also be a factor, by causing the gum tissue around the restoration to become irritated.

For deeper, underlying reasons why periodontal infection can take hold, we have to look at imbalance in the body. TV commercials show how well certain mouthwashes kill the germs in your mouth, but don’t mention that they’ll be back within a few hours! The bacteria are part of a normal “population” that is always present. Disease isn’t due to the presence of bacteria, but to the fact that they’re breeding out of control, which causes inflammation. Effectively controlling the bacterial overgrowth is one part of treatment, but restoring balance in overall body chemistry and lowering stress levels is important for truly effective treatment.

High stress levels and poor diet lower immune system response and will deplete the body of many valuable vitamins and minerals needed for general maintenance and repair. If there’s a shortage of calcium, phosphorus or other minerals, the body will take them from non-vital areas first (in this case, the jawbones) so vital organs can function. This weakens the bone supporting the teeth; subsequently, periodontal disease can be considered the beginning of osteoporosis.

Treatment for Periodontal Disease
Traditional treatment for periodontal disease involves surgical removal of the infected tissue and a course of antibiotics, sometimes administered by embedding a tetracycline-soaked chip or cord into the affected pockets. Surgery is painful and expensive, and there is often continued bleeding afterwards. Frequently, the surgery must be repeated within five years, because it removes the symptom rather than the cause. And while antibiotics can kill off weaker bacteria (and “good” immune building bacteria in the gut), the stronger bacteria become resistant.

Holistic Treatment For Periodontal Disease
A holistic dentist will use deep cleaning, teeth scaling and root planing to break up mats of bacteria and remove calcified tartar (“calculus”) stuck to the teeth. Since a compromised immune system is recognized to be instrumental in the disease process, nutritional supplementation is a key aspect of treatment (decreased levels of vitamin C are associated with this disease).[vii] The dentist will explain how the patient can brush, floss and “irrigate” teeth to effectively remove plaque and bacteria.

The patient’s problem is there partly because old techniques and habits haven’t worked well. New habits have to be learned and maintained. Many holistic dentists find that correct home use of an irrigating device (such as a WaterPik©) is one of the best forms of prevention, as well as an important adjunct to the periodontal treatment. Because the mouth has become overly acidic, a diet to restore the appropriate acid/alkaline balance is suggested (see chapter 5). The use of natural mouth rinses, such as “Ipsab,” which contains prickly ash bark,[viii] and the homeopathic remedies arnica, silicea and plantago greatly assist healing. In addition to Ipsab, many holistic dentists recommend MistOral, a topical gum spray, and The Natural Dentist Herbal Mouth and Gum Therapy oral rinse.[ix] Other quality, natural products are becoming increasingly available at your local natural food store.

As the adage goes, prevention is the best medicine. Sugary, fluoride laden toothpastes and chemical mouthwashes have failed to protect the majority of us from gingivitis and periodontitis. Regular (and correct) brushing, flossing and irrigating with naturally compounded products and a healthy diet/lifestyle, along with professional treatment at appropriate intervals, should keep your smile healthy. Home/self care is an ongoing part of holistic dental therapy. Keeping gums healthy and resilient is not only mandatory for vibrant health, it’s part of that all-important first impression smile that opens doors and gives you confidence both socially and professionally.

Fluoride and Fluoridation
Most of us have heard since childhood of the wondrous benefits of fluoride in toothpaste, drinking water and even supplements for infants. It might surprise you to learn that almost all holistic dentists are solidly against the use of fluoride and water fluoridation. They contend that the studies supporting the supposed benefits of fluoride are terribly flawed. A recent statistical look at decay levels in fluoridated versus non-fluoridated communities shows virtually no difference. Worse, fluoride is actually a very toxic substance and can cause harm at the same low doses that are recommended by water treatment authorities and public health officials.

I discuss the dangers of fluoride in Chapter 1. For a critical look at the fluoride issue, see www.fluoridealert.org or download the Position Paper on fluoridation from the IAOMT Web site (www.iaomt.org). 

Conclusion
The practice of holistic dentistry is an integral part of complementary medicine. As we’ve seen, the mouth is an excellent barometer for systemic health. The condition of your teeth, gums and tongue are a window to the biochemical state of your body. Be sure to include regular dental exams in your health regimen, brush and floss at least twice a day and rinse with water after meals. Additionally, consider learning how to use an irrigator and buying a tongue scraper/brush. Your mouth will feel fresher and morning breath will be a thing of the past. Look for more “healthy” toothpastes and dental products at your local natural food store. As I said earlier, nothing says good health like a great smile—back it up with the confidence that yours reveals a healthy mouth that speaks for the whole body.

It’s important to understand your options when it comes to choosing a dentist. Finding a good one is like finding a good car mechanic—they’re both indispensable and worth their weight in gold. Contact the Holistic Dental Association at www.holisticdental.org or 970-259-1091; or the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology at www.iaomt.org or 863-420-6373 for informational pamphlets and recommendations in your area.

Additional Information
Mercury Free Dentists - A Guide for Consumers

The Dental Wellness Institute
Dr. Tom McGuire is a leading authority on toxic mercury amalgam fillings, mercury detoxification and gum disease. He and has written several books about these topics, including The Poison in Your Teeth: Mercury Amalgam (Silver) Fillings … Hazardous to Your Health, Mercury Detoxification, and Healthy Teeth—Healthy Body. To learn more, visit his user-friendly and informative website at www.dentalwellness4u.com.

Mercury Free Dentists
Los Angeles, CA
Dr. Ladan Danialian

San Diego, CA
Dr Safarian

Santa Barbara, CA
Mark T Weiser DDS

Prospect, KY
Christian W. Hahn, DDS, AAACD

Seattle, WA
Dr. Paul Rubin, DDS

>>> Conitnue to Conclusion

Notes

[i] In the September 1997 Journal of British Medicine, research showed that there can be a causal relationship between periodontal disease and an increase in heart problems. In some of the populations studied, the likelihood of getting heart disease doubled when periodontal problems are present.

[ii] German doctors Voll, Kramer, Adler, Gleditch, Rau and others found that relationships and body maps exist in the mouth; these researchers developed charts to help practitioners relate dental disease to distant sites in the body.

[iv] Endocal© is available to dentists through Biodent in Montreal.

[v] Calcium hydroxide is ultimately converted to calcium carbonate, creating a wall of calcification at vital tissue, sealing root apices and vital dentin tubules. Calcium hydroxide is also more effective than paramonochlorophenol (PMCP), a commonly used root canal medication, in killing anaerobic bacteria associated with infected root canals.

[vi] The American Dental Association estimates that 75% of those over twenty have some form of periodontal disease.

[vii] See Elements of Danger, Morton Walker, DPM, pps. 299-301 for a comprehensive list of specific supplements suggested for healing periodontal disease.

[viii] Prickly ash bark has been studied in medical/dental research and has been shown to possess antiseptic, disinfectant and deodorant properties, according to Robert Arthur, DDS, of Santa Barbara, CA.

[ix] You can get MistORAL from Brower Enterprises, Inc. (800-373-6076). To obtain the NDHM&GT product, call Woodstock Natural Products (“The Natural Dentist” at 8000-615-6895).


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