Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a holistic dentist and a biological dentist?
What about functional dentistry–what’s that all about?
As we continue on our journey studying holistic oral health (25 years of learning and still going strong 🙂 ), we thought you might enjoy and benefit from hearing our ideas on the differences between several ‘alternative’ dental styles.
This subject can sometimes be confusing because there are no regulations for the words that a dental office can use to market their services.
Unfortunately, this means that any dental office can claim to be ‘holistic’, even if they’re not. This ‘greenwashing’ is a rather common occurrence.
You see, some organizations have certification programs for dentists who are looking to learn more about the whole-body aspects of dentistry, but these organizations aren’t universally recognized.
So that means that once again, it’s up to us, the public, to increase our knowledge base on this subject. Only then can we ask (demand) the dental industry to step up to the task of providing us with services to help us optimally care for our oral health.
In this article, let’s examine the various ‘styles’ of dental offices, ranging from ‘regular’ conventional dentists, through mercury-safe dentists, all the way to holistic dentists.
The pyramid of dental training
Imagine the shape of a pyramid. This provides good imagery for exploring the various levels of education that a dentist can take themselves through on their journey to whole-body dentistry.
The pyramid image may not be a perfect example, but it does help us see how a dentist needs to have one level of understanding in place before they can reach the next level.
DDS vs. DMD – The foundational training
At the base of the pyramid, all dentists need to be trained as, well, dentists, right?
The DDS (doctor of dental surgery) and DMD (doctor of medicine in dentistry) are different degrees that are essentially the same thing. Some dental schools issue a DDS and others issue a DMD, but their curricula are pretty much the same.
This degree signifies that the dentist was trained as a doctor of the mouth (and jaw). With this degree, dentists can diagnose and treat oral diseases (like tooth decay, gum disease, etc.) or anything else that’s going on in the mouth.
The problem is that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body. So, it can both influence and be affected by things that are going on in other areas of the body.
However, many medical specialists are only trained to address one specific area of the body (think cardiologist), and they wind up trying to treat that one part separately from the whole. It’s not that they don’t know better. It’s simply that is the region/system that they have specialized in and so are prone to lose track of the big picture.
This ‘over-compartmentalization’ of the body is a very common mistake we make in the modern world, especially in the western medical and dental industries.
The next level up in the pyramid is the dentist who realizes that there’s more to caring for their patients’ oral health than just what they were taught in school.
For example, they probably got wind of the hurricane of literature showing how toxic mercury is. So, they don’t use mercury amalgam fillings in their practice.
Be warned, there are sub-levels even within this space of ‘mercury-free’ dentists.
If you want a deeper dive on these details, download our FREE eBook, the OraWellness Guide to Safe Dentistry.
The next level is a mercury-free dentist who only uses composite resin or ceramic filling materials in their practice and who has been trained by a group like the IAOMT or New Directions Dentistry to learn specific protocols for how to safely remove existing mercury fillings.
This dentist will take extra precautions to protect the patient and any staff during an amalgam filling removal. Here’s a good read for learning about the steps for safe removal of mercury fillings.
Mercury-safe dentists will also do their part to help prevent mercury exposure in our environment.
They will use amalgam separator devices at their dental office to prevent mercury from being washed into our wastewater systems. It’s a sad, little-known fact that 50% of mercury toxicity on the earth is from dental offices not using amalgam separators.
Our friend, Dr Paul Rubin, is a great example of a super qualified mercury-safe dentist. In fact, he is one of the partners in New Directions Dentistry, an educational company that teaches other dentists how to be mercury-safe.
Drawing from the core concepts of functional medicine, the functional dentist has an evidence-based mindset and actively seeks the ‘root cause’ of any health imbalance.
A functional dentist explores the question, “What other systems are directly impacted by or related to the mouth?”
Within the field of functional dentistry, we see dentists who understand, for example, the relationship between bruxism (grinding), receding gums, and undiagnosed sleep apnea. Here’s an expert interview with Dr. Mark Burhenne that explores the bruxism/receding gums/sleep apnea connection.
Another related topic within functional dentistry is how the development of the dental arch during childhood impacts our facial structure, ability to breathe fully, and even our spinal health. Here’s a good expert interview that explores functional dentistry. Also, feel free to check out Dr. Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet.
So, a functional dentist will embrace more fringe dental procedures, like palate expansion or creating specially-designed mouthguards that help maintain an open airway during sleep.
At its core, functional dentistry recognizes the role that diet plays in a child’s dental arch development.
These dentists are also going to be aware of the microbiomes of the body and the mouth/body connection. So, they will tend to understand that our job is to balance our oral flora, and they will steer clear of more toxic procedures in dentistry.
A great example of a functional dentist (or periodontist, in this case) is our friend, Dr. Al Danenberg.
Dr. Al specializes in the treatment of gum disease. He is also a certified functional medicine practitioner and a primal health coach, so he’s very aware of the role that diet plays in the creation or destruction of our oral and whole-body health.
Here’s a super lively interview we did with Dr. Al on the role that nutrition plays in stopping and reversing gum disease. By the way, Dr. Al wrote a great book called Crazy-Good Living that you can purchase on Amazon.
It’s also here on the spectrum of dental practices where you’ll see a dental office joining arms with other health practitioners.
A common alliance is a dental office and a naturopathic medical office. In this way, the naturopathic physician can offer adjunct therapies like IV vitamin C and blood draws for functional testing.
We strongly applaud this team-oriented approach in medicine. It allows each specialist to leverage their own expertise and work together to help the whole patient (no over-compartmentalization here!).
Biological dentistry is one of the ‘big titles’ in the alternative dental world.
Again, while there’s no officially-recognized difference between a biological dentist and a holistic dentist, we’d like to offer some context to help you make distinctions between these titles.
A biological dentist understands the toxic nature of dentistry. Not only are they ‘mercury-safe’, they also suggest dental material compatibility testing to help each patient find out which dental materials will be the least irritating to their unique system.
Two companies that perform these dental material biocompatibility tests are: BioComp Labs and Clifford Consulting.
Like the functional dentist, a biological dentist will probably collaborate with a team of other health experts.
The biological dentist most likely uses ozone gas in their day-to-day work. Dr. Julian Holmes (our friend and the dentist who literally wrote the book on the use of ozone in dentistry) said he can’t practice dentistry without his ozone tools.
Once a dentist truly understands the superior cleansing capability of ozone gas, they will see applications for it in nearly every procedure they perform.
Some helpful resources for finding biological dentists are:
- The IAOMT (the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology): it has a great ‘find a dentist’ database where you can choose which qualities you want in the dentist. For example, you can use the advanced search feature to filter on dentists who use ozone in their practice.
- The IABDM (International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine): this is another helpful resource for finding qualified dentists who will tend to use a more biological approach to dentistry.
In recent years, the IAOMT and IABDM have combined their regional meetings, which we think is a great opportunity for these two organizations to ‘cross pollinate’.
For us, Dr. Hal Huggins is the iconic biological dentist. He sounded the alarm on mercury toxicity decades before his peers (and was vilified for it).
Dr. Huggins was eventually stripped of his dental license because he was addressing whole-body issues like MS and many other autoimmune diseases in his practice.
Here’s a link to the interview we did with Dr. Hal before he died.
This expert interview, along with lots of other FREE expert interviews, are available for you to watch 24/7, always for free here at OraWellness (this information is too important to only make it available for a limited time).
Before we jump into distinctions between biological dentistry and holistic dentistry…
Full disclosure here: these distinctions are ours alone. So, please don’t presume that a dentist who claims to be holistic will share these ideas.
The biological dentist is aware of the whole-body nature of dentistry. Like our friend Dr. Mark Breiner, author of Whole Body Dentistry, the biological dentist really takes the whole body into consideration.
For example, at Dr. Breiner’s practice, patients can choose to have thermography images taken as early screening for breast cancer. This helps the team identify problem teeth that might be congesting and challenging the lymph, thus contributing to the risk of breast cancer.
So, what’s the difference between a biological and holistic dentist?
The holistic dentist is going to include ‘softer’ aspects of our being. Drawing from older, holistically-oriented medical practices like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the holistic dentist isn’t only treating a body.
Instead, they are treating a whole being that has emotional, mental, energetic, and physical components.
They know that each of our teeth relates to specific internal organs, and they weave that knowledge into their practice.
(Incidentally, here’s a fascinating interactive chart where you can explore this relationship between various teeth and organs. You need Flash to use this Meridian Tooth Chart, so it won’t work on a smartphone or tablet.)
For example, the holistic dentist will recognize that we may have developed negative associations with dentists due to past experiences. They will also understand that if we bring that anxiety to our appointment with the holistic dentist, we are going to experience more pain than if we were in a calmer state.
So, the holistic dentist may have some specific essential oils or homeopathic remedies to help the whole being have a gentler experience.
Where the biological (and, in our opinion, functional) dentist is viewing the patient ‘just’ as an ecosystem (their biological aspects), the holistic dentist puts more consideration into providing the best possible care for the whole being.
As an example of this, the HDA (Holistic Dental Association) states on their ‘About Us/Philosophy’ page, “We believe that health care practitioners and recipients should be provided with appropriate information to make informed choices that will enhance personal health and wellness while feeling loved, accepted, and understood.”
Wait! Is this a site about dentistry that’s using the words, “…feeling loved, accepted and understood”???
Maybe holistic dentistry isn’t for everyone. However, to us, it feels really good to know that there are dentists who are consciously aware that we patients are complex beings whose ‘less-scientifically-obvious’ sides (like our emotions) play a big role in our wellness.
Holistic dental offices look to help patients heal and feel good, and they apply their business as a force for good.
Perhaps our best example of this is from another professional friend, Dr. Martha Cortes. She shared with us that before working on a patient, she prays and asks to be guided in how she can best serve this person. That’s a holistic approach within the framework of a dental office.
We hope these distinctions help you navigate the crazy world of dentistry. If you’d like another read on how to find a helpful dentist, check out our article titled, “Helpful resources to find a qualified dentist to assist you“.
You may also find benefit from reading our checklist for a dream dentist.
If you have any ideas you’d like to add to this discussion, please share them with us in the comments section below.
Helpful, Related Resources:
“So what exactly is ‘holistic oral health’ anyway?” [article]
How to stop tooth decay and remineralize your teeth [Free eBook]
4 steps to stop gum disease from causing an autoimmune disease in your life [article]
How to safely remove mercury fillings (without damaging your brain) [article]
The connection between grinding, snoring, and feeling tired all day [[Free expert interview]]
The role diet plays in the mouth/body connection [[Free expert interview]]
OraWellness Guide to Safe Dentistry [Free eBook]
Understanding the issues with root canals, part one [article]
The Common, Unknown Risk of Having Wisdom Teeth Removed [article]
How to Balance Your Oral Flora and Be a Good Conductor of the Symphony in Your Mouth [article]
How nutrition plays a foundational role in stopping and reversing gum disease [[Free expert interview]]
Dentistry in the 21st century – Dr. Hal Huggins [[Free expert interview]]
Is Thermal Imaging the Solution to Screen for Problem Root Canals? [article]
Interactive Meridian Tooth Chart [Free interactive discovery tool]
How to use essential oils to reduce dental appointment anxiety and pain [article]
Helpful resources for you to find a qualified dentist to assist you [article]
7 components of a ‘dream dentist’ [article]
International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT)
New Directions Dentistry
Dr. Paul Rubin [scroll down on the page]
The Dental Diet [on amazon]
Dr. Al Danenberg
Dr. Al’s book ‘Crazy Good Living‘ [on amazon]
Dr. Julian Holmes
International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine (IABDM)
Dr. Mark Breiner
Dr. Breiner’s book ‘Whole Body Dentistry’ [on amazon]
Holistic Dental Association
Dr. Martha Cortes