By Cass Nelson-Dooley, M.S.
How good is your dentist? Conventional dentists are easy to find, but are they really the kind of dentist you want helping you optimize your oral health?
If you’re like me, you want your dentist to help you maintain your oral health and your overall health. After all, your mouth can mirror health issues elsewhere in the body. And if you have issues like cavities or bleeding gums, you want a dentist who will suggest the most non-toxic, long-lasting, health-supporting solutions available.
So, what kind of dentist are we talking about here? Natural, holistic, functional, integrative, oral-systemic, sleep, biological – it turns out there are lots of different terms to describe the kinds of dentistry that take a whole-body approach to oral health. Each of them is unique, with different training programs, and each may focus more heavily on certain underlying causes of oral health issues over others (for instance, how you breathe vs. what vitamins you take vs. fluoride in your toothpaste). I’ll use the term “biological or holistic dentist” to describe this group as a whole, for the sake of simplicity.
Dentists that treat the mouth as part of whole-body health include:
- Biological dentist
- Holistic dentist
- Oral-systemic dentist
- Integrative dentist
- Functional dentist
- Sleep dentist
- Natural dentist
Aside from their differences, what these dentists all have in common is this: they look for underlying causes of dental problems because they want to prevent and reverse oral health issues, not just fix broken teeth. They use non-toxic dental materials. They view the mouth as key to whole-body health. How you eat, sleep, and take care of your health at home is important to them, not just what is going on with your teeth and gums.
In this post, we’ll talk about how these dentists differ from conventional dentists, what to look for in choosing a new dentist, and how to find one in your area. In my next blog post, I will talk more about the different types of dentists out there, from functional dentists to sleep dentists and more.
Biological and Holistic vs Conventional Dentistry
Biological or holistic dentists have the same formal education as regular dentists and can do all the same in-office procedures. But they’ve had additional training in specific areas to gain a broader understanding of the mouth-body connection. They use healthier materials for in-office treatments and are up-to-date on the latest research in their specific areas of focus. This additional training often leads them to approach common oral health issues a little differently.
For example, a biological or holistic dentist may tell you that the way you breathe is contributing to your dental problems. They may have opinions about how to best treat a root canal infection, which might be different from what a conventional dentist would recommend. The biological or holistic dentist is looking for underlying causes of your dental problems because they know that oral health affects the whole body.
Who could benefit from seeing a biological or holistic dentist?
- Anyone with a long history of dental problems
- Chronically ill patients
- Chemically sensitive people
- Immune-suppressed patients
- People interested in optimum oral health and whole-body health
- People looking for natural and non-toxic dental alternatives
What to Look for in Choosing a Biological or Holistic Dentist
Location. This is critical. See the directories at the end of this post for a good dentist in your area.
Experience. A dentist who has practiced holistic or biological dentistry for more than ten years likely has a good level of post-graduation hands-on experience. They have seen tough cases, and they have tried-and-true methods to help you.
Non-toxic dental materials. Do they use mercury fillings in their practice? Do they use special procedures to remove mercury fillings? Are they concerned about biocompatible implant materials? Just because a dentist is trained to remove mercury fillings carefully doesn’t mean they are a biological dentist.
Continuing education. Certifications from biological dentistry programs such as IAOMT and IABDM; holistic dental training from the HDA; education in dental sleep medicine (AADSM) and/or oral-systemic health (AAOSH); special training in the BaleDoneen program or the ReCODE program by Dale Bredesen. These are just a few examples of continuing education credentials that indicate a passionate and educated dentist who stays current on the latest research.
Oral microbiome testing. A dentist who uses oral microbiome testing regularly with their patients and says so on their website. I prefer it when they use objective measurements, such as testing, to monitor how well their treatments are working.
Integrated teamwork. A dentist who works with an integrative team of other health professionals is a huge bonus! Some have myofunctional therapists in their offices (someone who works with facial and mouth muscles). Some biological dentists have a network of practitioners they work with, including medical doctors, osteopathic doctors, chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, nutritionists, ENT (ear, nose, & throat) specialists, allergists, and cranial sacral therapists.
Techniques and instrumentation. Biological or holistic dentists are likely to use lasers and ozone therapy in their offices. They promote three-dimensional dental cone beam scans (CBCT scans, or cone-beam computed tomography), a superior way to detect hidden problems in the mouth. Biological or holistic dentists are not typically big fans of root canals; they perform tooth extractions differently and use non-toxic materials for fillings.
How to Find a Biological or Holistic Dentist Near You
Dentists in your area who practice according to the principles discussed above can be found using the links and resources below:
- Functional dentist directory – Dr. Mark Burhenne, DDS
- Directory of integrative biological dentists – International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology (IAOMT)
- Find a biological dentist – International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine (IABDM)
- Holistic dentists – Holistic Dentist Association (HDA)
- Sleep dentist directory – American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM)
- Directory of oral-systemic dental practitioners – American Academy of Oral-Systemic Health (AAOSH)
- OralDNA Labs’ Find a Provider – Look for clinicians with a diamond designation. This means they use oral testing frequently and understand the oral-systemic connection.
- Wellness dentists trained in oral-systemic health – Dr. Doug Thompson, DDS
- Holistic dentists (international) – Holistic Dentist Association (HDA)