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Charge Up for Good Health

Should You Go to a Holistic Dentist?

These alternative practitioners did go to dental school -- but as our expert explains, they do thing...

I work in a great office. The cabinets are made from reclaimed wood, we hand out calming drinks in the waiting area, and a feng shui consultant makes sure the energy of the rooms is right. Although it sounds like I’m a spa therapist, I’m actually a dentist with the exact same degree as traditional dentists. But instead of just fixing people’s teeth, I want to get at, well, the root of their dental problems. It’s part of a movement called holistic (or integrative) dentistry.

If you made an appointment with a holistic dentist, you’d probably kick off your first visit with a fairly lengthy conversation about your diet, exercise habits and sleep patterns. All of these factors can affect your oral health, but most traditional dentists spend little time discussing them. For example, many of my patients don’t consume nearly as much liquid as they need. Dehydration makes salvia become thicker and less able to do its natural job of bathing your teeth in healthful substances to help keep them clean.

Holistic dentists do take X-rays to see if there are any cavities or decay in between teeth, but they typically use the digital kind, which emit 96 percent less radiation than standard ones used in most traditional dentist offices. When integrative dentists find a cavity, chances are they’ll take care of it with a non-mercury composite filling, which is safer for your mouth and the rest of your body than the common amalgam ones.

During your actual exam, holistic dentists tend to be more proactive about helping you avoid future problems. When I’m examining a patient’s teeth, for instance, I’ll take a sample of plaque and look at it under a microscope. If I see certain microbes in the sample, I know the patient is at higher risk for gum disease, even if problems haven’t surfaced yet. I might recommend an oral irrigator to get plaque below the gum line, or certain vitamin and mineral supplements.

All this extra TLC sounds expensive. But the truth is dental insurance covers holistic practices in much the same way it does regular ones. So if you think you’d be more comfortable with this approach, check with your insurer to see if a holistic dentist is in your plan. Then, make an appointment to swing by the office and talk to the staff before you make the switch. The most important thing is to establish a good relationship with your dentist, integrative or not.