Holistic boom

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2009
Dr Ron Ehrlich explains how dentists actively treat conditions that have a direct impact on general health.
Dr Ron Ehrlich explains how dentists actively treat conditions that have a direct impact on general health.

These days, patients want to discuss everything from diet to sleep issues, discovers Frank Leggett—and that’s why they’re attracted to holistic dentists who offer the full gamut

In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of practices offering holistic dentistry and this boom has largely been customer driven. In the past, clients were happy just to have a dentist fix their teeth but attitudes to dentistry have been gradually changing. The all-pervasive internet has made people much more informed about all aspects of dentistry and how oral health impacts on other areas of their lives. People are turning to their dentist for information about everything from the right diet and sleep problems to treatment options and environmental impacts of materials.

“It’s not a particular demographic, it’s right across the board,” says Dr Marcus O’Meara of Brunswick Holistic Dental Centre in New South Wales. “Patients from all walks of life come in and just expect more. They ask better questions and they’re much more informed about heading along a holistic path in their health care.”

It’s this climate that has created such a demand for holistic dentistry, also referred to as biological dentistry. But what, exactly, is a holistic approach to dentistry? Dr Ron Ehrlich of Sydney Holistic Dental Centre explains: “Put quite simply, dentistry traditionally focuses on the teeth and gums. The focus of holistic dentistry is primarily on the person attached to the teeth and gums. That basic philosophical difference has quite an impact on your whole outlook in regard to health and wellbeing.”

Dr Rachel Hall, who runs Evolve Dental Healing in the Brisbane suburb of Kenmore, says, “While we focus on the physical effects of dental health on the body and vice versa, we understand for many patients, having dental treatment brings up numerous emotional issues and stresses. Holistic dentistry includes mainstream dentistry in conjunction with a focus on diet and nutrition, the use of supplements where appropriate, along with techniques to improve emotional and energetic wellbeing.”

This ‘complete person’ approach, coupled with a sensitivity to any emotional and mental problems, is a very attractive option to increasing numbers of patients.

Dr Marcus O’Meara, an Irish dentist who moved to Australia in 2001 and is now happily settled in Brunswick Heads, says most people are striving to be as healthy as they can be. “And we are flexible and willing to provide the services our patients’ desire and request even if it means doing research on their behalf,” he says.

The Brunswick Heads practice, now with a team of seven dentists, has been running since the 1970s, but in the ’90s it began to adopt holistic methodologies. The word ‘holistic’ was added to the practice name in 1999. The main reason Dr O’Meara joined the practice in 2003 was to learn and follow a more holistic path.

According to Dr Ehrlich, who’s been in the Sydney CBD practice since 1980, many dentists are holistic without promoting it. “For example, most dentists are actively treating gum disease and sleep apnoea which has a direct impact on general health and people’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing,” he says. “Can we call that holistic dentistry? I think we can.”

The first time Dr Rachel Hall discovered the importance of holistic dentistry was back in 2000. “I started working at a holistic practice and it surprised me how few people understood the link between their health and their mouth, and how diet and lifestyle play a role in dental health. I now focus on our patients’ oral health needs by supporting people with issues like bad breath, dry mouth and chronic TMJ problems. Along with this, I offer nutritional advice, supplements and insights into their dental issues that go beyond brush, floss and avoid sugar. People want to know what they can do to be healthy and prevent problems, especially when it comes to dental decay and gum disease.”

“While holistic dentists are sometimes seen as ‘alternative’, they are still hard-nosed professionals who use the latest technology.”

Holistic dentists usually spend a lot of time getting to know as much about their patients as possible. Dr Ron Ehrlich has a standard hour-long new-patient examination. “During that time I don’t do anything other than examine the patient and discuss their health. I get a really good picture of their general health, oral health, what their priorities are in terms of what I need to be doing for them and what they need to be doing for themselves. That hour is the most important time I spend with a patient because it sets up a relationship and they then have an understanding of their issues.”

One area that’s common to all holistic dentists is their desire to eliminate mercury amalgam. As Dr Ehrlich points out, “It’s illegal for a dentist to dispose of mercury amalgam in the garbage, the toilet or down the sink. It has to be disposed of as toxic waste. Yet there are still professionals who can’t quite make the connection that putting mercury into a human being is not a good thing for people’s health.”

Another skill a holistic dentist has is an extended list of good contacts—other professionals that will cover different problems. Dr O’Meara has a lot of involvement with other professions—“not just mainstream doctors and other dentists but also allied health professionals in acupuncture, homoeopathy and nutrition”.

While holistic dentists are sometimes seen as ‘alternative’, they are still hard-nosed professionals who use the latest technology to create great patient outcomes. Digital radiography with its lower levels of radiation has been enthusiastically embraced. Amalgam separators and retrieval units ensure that no mercury enters the water supply. It’s common for units such as the IQAir DentalVac Hg to be used when mercury amalgam is being removed.

“It’s designed to suction and filter mercury vapour given off while drilling amalgams thus ensuring that no mercury vapour is inhaled by the patient or dental team,” explains Dr Hall. “We always use a rubber dam when removing amalgam where possible but when we can’t anchor the dam or when the patient finds it challenging, we use CleanUp Tips from the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology which is a suction device that gets placed directly over and around the tooth.”

Also, lasers, 3D imaging and biocompatibility testing are commonly found in holistic surgeries. Dr O’Meara uses a PAD laser—“a minimally invasive disinfection system that’s ideal for endodontics and caries therapy. We also use it to sterilise root canals prior to filling.”

The fact these technologies are often complemented with aromatherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture and healing colours is the reason patient numbers are growing in holistic practices.

Dr O’Meara’s practice offers a range of supplements, including an anti-oxidant drink to help reverse the effects of local anaesthetic and to help bind free radicals following X-rays.

Dr Ehrlich sees the core of holistic dentistry as “building a relationship with his patients and encouraging them to achieve the best of health. The key to health care is to have a clear vision of what causes ill-health, how you can encourage people to be well and how you fit in as their chosen health professional. We’ve been a holistic practice since 1983 and it has been working for us. If, as a profession, we stick with the old way of doing things, we’re going to be faced with some major challenges. This could be the most difficult time our industry has ever faced—or it could be the golden age of dentistry.”

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