In recent years, some individuals have come to embrace a “greener” lifestyle. In addition to food and product choices, this cleaner, greener living style also influences their healthcare decisions.

A joint survey released in 2008 and conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Center for Health Statistics revealed approximately 38 percent of adults in this country use some form of complementary or alternative medicine.

Holistic dentistry has been around for a number of years, but it’s a growing field that offers a choice for patients seeking an alternative to conventional dentistry.

Understanding Holistic Dentistry

The term holistic dentistry is used to describe the practice of natural dentistry. Also known as biological or biocompatible dentistry, not all dental professionals embrace holistic practices, but proponents say the departure from conventional dentistry is both safer and healthier. Exton, Penn. dentist, Donald Robbins, DMD, says he’s been practicing and teaching mercury-free, fluoride-free, toxin-free dentistry for over 25 years. Melding these methods with conventional dental strategies, he calls the combination “BioSafeDentistry.”

“BioSafeDentistry is the use of safer processes in dental procedures, not just by avoiding the use of harmful chemicals and metals, but also by filtering the air in the dental office,” he explains. “In my office, we use high-efficiency, medical grade air filters that run 24-7. It doesn’t even smell like a typical dental office.”

In addition to ridding the air of odors and allergens, the filters also the trap the harmful vapors Dr. Robbins says are released by the removal of old mercury fillings. He believes maintaining an office free of toxins and allergens and using biocompatible materials is beneficial to both patients and the environment.

Principles Embraced by Holistic Dentists

Dentists that embrace a holistic approach are focused on the connection of oral health to overall health. There are two basic components that are central to holistic dentistry:

Proper Nutrition. Both dentists who practice traditional dentistry and those who embrace alternative approaches agree diet and nutrition play an important role in the health of our teeth. The American Dental Association reports unrestricted sugar consumption promotes tooth decay, and those with certain nutritional deficiencies are more likely to develop oral infections.

In his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A. Price, DDS, reports primitive man enjoyed excellent dental health, while the teeth of modern man are in terrible condition. To uncover why dental decay and periodontal disease has become so prevalent, Dr. Price looked at the diet of early man and discovered it contained more than four times the amount of minerals and water-soluble vitamins and 10 times the amount of fat soluble vitamins as today’s typical American diet.

Other medical organizations also recognize the link between nutrition and healthy teeth. The American Dietetic Association states on their website, “Nutrition is an integral component of oral health.”

Use of Non-toxic Dental Materials. The Holistic Dental Association supports the use of biocompatible dental materials that are not toxic to the body and won’t be rejected by the immune system.

The safety of metal amalgams (silver fillings) has long been a topic of debate. Robbins considers mercury a dangerous metal and is concerned about the risk of mercury toxicity caused by silver amalgams – and he’s not alone. According to Robbins, approximately 50 percent of dentists no longer place mercury fillings, instead opting for non-metal dental materials such as porcelain and white composite resin.

“Patients with two or more mercury fillings are being exposed to more than the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] allowed levels,” says Robbins, who in 2010 testified at hearings on the safety of mercury amalgams held by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At this date, the ruling from that hearing is still pending.

Many holistic dentists also oppose the use of fluoride, pointing to studies that indicate it does little to prevent cavities and can damage tooth enamel in young children who consume too much. Robbins cites studies linking fluoridated drinking water to health problems such as hip fracture and reduced IQ levels.