It’s not hard to notice that in our world today, there is a huge shift in the way we think about our health. Organic produce, special diets, an abundance of exercise and fitness choices surround us. Which is why I believe now is also the time for us to become more aware of the mouth/body connection and its part in this movement toward better general health.
Biological dentistry and highlighting the mouth/body connection
I have been a dentist for over 30 years, and more than 25 of those have been in the biological arena. Rather than a separate specialty, biological dentistry is a thought process and attitude that can be applied to all facets of dental practice and to healthcare in general. Really, it can be boiled down to three ideas:
1. Your mouth is the door to your overall health.
2. The head and the rest of the body cannot be separated into two different entities.
3. Your dentist and physician (and other care practitioners) need to work together to improve and maintain your optimal health.
For example, even conventional medicine is recognizing the role periodontal disease plays in cardiovascular problems, diabetes, respiratory disease, stroke, premature births, and low birth weights. It’s also well known that oral health problems in older adults can lead to disability and reduction in mobility. And in children with oral health problems, we are seeing an array of issues like attention deficits, difficulty in school, and dietary and sleep issues.
Physicians and dentists working together
It’s these sorts of connections that provide strong (I would say obvious) evidence for the idea of the mouth being the gateway to one’s overall health. And yet, we’re still not fully integrating dentists and other healthcare professionals in their common goal of bettering patients’ and public health in general. In a commentary published in the “American Journal of Public Health," Leonard Cohen, DDS, MPH, MS explains that patients suffer when there is no connection between the dentist and physician. Moreover, researchers have noted: “As interest in integrative health care and the use of complementary and alternative therapies by consumers has continued to grow, concern has increased that professionals be sufficiently informed about integrative health [so] that they can effectively care for patients.”
For its part, biological dentistry understands that the head is very much connected to the rest of the body, and that patients benefit from an integrated approach to healthcare. We understand that oral health conditions can be indicative of other health problems, including nutritional deficiencies, systemic diseases, microbial infections, immune disorders, and some forms of cancer. We also take into consideration chemical sensitivities, and how biocompatible materials can be far less negatively impactful on a patient’s body. Biocompatibility is especially crucial because we know that dental mercury amalgams (i.e., “silver fillings”) are toxic and can lead to an array of health concerns.
Progressive thinking and a conservative approach
So, how does biological dentistry differ from its conventional counterpart? The simple answer is that we always seek the safest, least toxic way to treat the patient’s specific dental needs, while paying careful attention to the link between oral and overall health. We insist on the practice of mercury-free and mercury-safe dentistry, never using mercury amalgam (silver) fillings. We follow very strict, up-to-date, scientific research to limit exposure. And we adhere to rigorous safety measures for removing existing mercury amalgam fillings and replacing them with non-mercury alternatives. The more a patient suffers from allergies, environmental sensitivity, or autoimmune diseases, the more we need to pay attention to all of the above.
So, again, I believe that we cannot focus on improving our overall health, without considering our oral health and the link between the two. That means in addition to being diligent about our diet and exercise routines, we must also commit to quality home dental care, healthy choices and, of course, our regularity in seeing our dentist (and not just when something hurts). Because if biological dentistry has taught me anything it’s this: you cannot neglect your dental health, subject your body to toxic substances, or succumb to tunnel vision and still expect to better your overall well-being.
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