We are often asked what is the difference between a dentist and a holistic dentist. Put simply, traditionally dentists’ primary focus is on the teeth, gums and the oral cavity; as holistic dentists our primary focus is on the person attached to those structures and dental stress can have a huge impact on a persons general health and wellbeing.
When it comes to the oral cavity, oral health and the importance to systemic whole body health there is much to consider including;
The oral cavity and the orofacial region is the most sensitive part of the body. The neurological input includes 30-40% of the sensory and motor cortex is dedicated to this area. In addition the affect on the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary functions throughout the body is also significant. The affect of this neurological input also becomes significant when considering chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions such as tension-type headaches, neck aches and jaw ache.
The oral cavity is the gateway to the respiratory tract. The size and shape of the upper jaw determines the space available in the nasal passages and sinuses. The size and shape of the upper and lower jaws determines the space available for the tongue, which has the potential to restrict the airway and affect breathing and also the quality of a good night’s sleep. All of this influences your ability to breathe well, throughout the day, but most importantly to breathe well while you sleep.
A well functioning masticatory system (your ability to chew your food well), including teeth and jaw joints, is an important first step in the process of digestion, breaking food down, and increasing the surface area of food to allow better digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, in the stomach, small intestine and beyond. Interestingly the tongue, lips and cheeks, which is something we as dentists look at all the time, can also reveal something about your general health.
With so many health conditions, including heart disease, cardiovascular disease, digestive conditions and even cancers now recognising that chronic inflammation is what is common to them all, the most common chronic inflammation, gum disease, has taken on greater significance in our understanding of disease.
The two most common chronic infections, tooth decay and gum disease occur in the oral cavity. The body is of course connected so the potential for other parts of the body to be affected by these common infections is also important. Decay, not only extends through a tooth but can also involve the jawbone and other parts of the body.
Because of tooth decay, dentists implant foreign material into human bodies to restore function of the teeth or replace teeth that have been lost through decay and infection. Ideally the material should be strong and durable BUT crucially should also be non-toxic and compatible with good health.
Part of any standard routine dental check up should involve a full oral cancer screening. Oral cancer is a potentially fatal disease that affects many thousands of people each year worldwide. The World Health Organisation (2005)1 has stated that it is the eleventh most prevalent cancer in the world.