Seeing the Whole Patient

Holistic dentistry is embraced by professionals around the Northwest, who believe it offers a way to help patients achieve better overall health

By Jody Ellis

Holistic dentistry, which is sometimes called biomedical dentistry, can be defined as addressing the whole person—body, mind and spirit—and integrating both conventional and alternative therapies into healthcare. As more research shows a correlation between dental health and overall patient health, and consumers increasingly demand treatments that used fewer toxic materials and medications, a number of dentists are exploring this type of dentistry.

While a holistic dentist still places fillings, crowns and bridges and does orthodontia, the goal is to not interfere with the way the body is designed to function, and to use treatments that are non-toxic and safe for patients. “Holistic treatments harmonize with the human body,” says Dr. Paul Genung with Seattle’s Health-Conscious Dentistry. “Standard dentistry tends to treat the symptoms of disease, whereas holistic dentistry treats the causes.”

Best of old and new

Genung practiced under conventional terms for decades. Then a client who ran a radio program told him about a guest speaker, a dentist named Hal Huggins, who would be giving a talk on the problems with silver fillings.

“At that point in time I was unaware of any problems associated with silver fillings, so I listened to the program,” Genung says. “Within a week, I’d read Dr. Huggins’ book, ‘It’s All in Your Head: The Link Between Mercury Amalgams and Illness,’ and I stopped using these types of fillings in my patients. It was life changing for me.”

Dr. Kelly Blodgett with Blodgett Dental Care in Portland, Oregon has long been interested in the intersection of old and new dental therapies and their impact on patients. Since purchasing his practice in 2001, he’s worked to stay on the cutting edge of new dental technology and equipment. He was impressed by the ability of technologies such as a cone beam CT machine to show pathology that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye.

“In 2013, I read a book called ‘Whole-Body Dentistry’ by Dr. Mark Breiner, and it opened my eyes to things I’d never thought of before,” he says. “What has followed has been an ongoing quest to learn and understand all aspects of health—physical, emotional, psychological [and] spiritual—and how they all play a part in the individual health of a patient.” Some of the treatments now offered by Dr. Blodgett’s office include ozone therapy, low-level laser therapy, mercury removal and bio-photonic antioxidant scanning.

Dr. David Peterson, who practices in Douglas, Wyoming, has been involved with holistic dentistry since he started his career. “I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but my focus was always on serving what was best for each individual patient,” he says. “My job as a holistic dentist is to help people take care of their own bodies and to help them optimize their health through a comprehensive dental plan that is consistent with their particular needs.”

Get started with holistic dentistry

As these doctors began implementing holistic approaches in their practices, they got resoundingly positive feedback from their patients. “This is really what they want,” says Blodgett. “So many times I’ve had patients say, ‘That makes perfect sense’ when I’ve explained procedures and how we want to approach their care. People want to feel like they are a part of re-establishing their own health.”

For dentists interested in incorporating a whole health approach, Blodgett offers several tips. “First, start reading books on holistic dentistry. I highly recommend Dr. Breiner’s book for an excellent source of general information on the subject. Second, start seeking dental groups that share a holistic mindset, such as the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology or International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine. Third, take your whole team to a major holistic dental conference and let them learn from the experts. Your investment in their education and awareness will come back to you ten-fold.”

Genung cautions that transitioning to a whole health practice isn’t for everyone. “It does require one to think outside the box, but we need to realize that no two people are alike, even twins,” he says. “We must treat each patient as the unique individual that they are. You might have to be thought of as a contrarian at first, but as you implement new changes and patients see the results, the transition isn’t that difficult.”

Peterson agrees. “The proof is in the pudding,” he says. “Some dentists have been known to criticize holistic dentistry because they say we do unconventional treatments with little science to support them. But my patients get better, and the science is actually there to back up every treatment we do.” If you have health-conscious patients or are looking for a way to differentiate your practice, consider whether holistic dentistry might be right for your business.