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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Integrative Dental Care: Conventional and Complementary Care Means Healthier Teeth and Gums

Nov 02, 2015 08:59PM ● By Christel Autuori

Much attention has been paid to the concept of holistic dental care, but this term means different things to different people. Holistic is defined as “all-inclusive or complete,” and the focus is on the whole person, not just the malady itself. However, for many, holistic dentistry connotes using alternative treatments instead of conventional Western dentistry.

There has been an evolution in the terms used to describe dental and medical care that veers from conventional and modern treatment. First there were “alternative” healing modalities, which were used instead of conventional care. Next came the “complementary” treatments, which were used alongside conventional treatment. Now we have moved to “integrative” health and healing, which encompasses conventional treatments blended, intermingled and combined with the “complementary” treatments. The integrative approach provides a balance of the best of both perspectives and treatments.

This new integrative approach can be used in treating periodontal disease, the disease of the gums, and bones supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria, which causes inflammation and infection. Dental hygienists and dentists urge you to brush and floss your teeth daily to remove it. Incomplete brushing and flossing can leave bacterial plaque on the teeth and gums, which hardens into dental calculus, commonly known as tartar. The surface of the tartar is rough and attracts and collects more bacteria. Sometimes the tartar pushes the gum away from the tooth, causing a space for more bacteria and debris to collect. The bacteria and tartar irritate the, causing them to become red, swollen and prone to bleeding. When gums bleed, bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Research shows there is a strong relationship between periodontal disease and the development of cardiovascular disease, as well as diabetes, breast and prostate cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and, in pregnancy, premature births and low-birthweight babies. A healthy mouth makes for a healthy body. If disease progresses unchecked, the inflammation and infection continue until the supporting bone around the teeth is destroyed. This creates more places and spaces for bacteria to live and prosper, and teeth can become loose or even fall out.

How is periodontal disease treated? The best treatment is preventing it in the first place, using soft toothbrushes (manual or power brushes) and dental floss or other interdental aids (toothpicks, mini-brushes, mini-picks, water flossers) to clean the spaces between the teeth where the toothbrushes do not reach. The bacteria must be removed daily; and since the bacteria are most active while we sleep, it is important to do the most thorough cleaning before
going to bed.

It is also important to get a professional dental prophylaxis (dental cleaning) twice a year. The dental hygienist or the dentist examines the teeth, gums and periodontal structures, gauges how readily the gums bleed, and measures the depth of the space between the teeth and gums to assess the health of the gums and the bone. The dental hygienist and the dentist clean the hard tartar off the teeth (using hand instruments and/or an ultrasonic scaler) to remove this irritant and make it easier for the individual to remove the bacterial plaque on a daily basis. Even if the gums are red, swollen and bleed easily (but the bone around the teeth is healthy and strong), simply removing the tartar and keeping the teeth and gums clean and free of bacteria will allow the gums to heal and become pink and firm. However, if one gives up brushing and cleaning in between the teeth for even a few days, the gums will again become red, swollen, and bleed—and the cycle starts all over again.

Conventional dental care for periodontal disease involves a thorough dental cleaning by the dental hygienist or dentist; in some cases, if the disease has progressed, additional procedures may be used to remove the tartar from below the gumline and smooth the roots of the teeth. This will remove bacteria that has lodged onto and into the root. If the disease has progressed further, surgical intervention may be necessary.

An integrative approach to treating periodontal disease involves the conventional treatment as described, then the use of healing aids; there are many commercially available more natural mouth rinses that contain herbs and essential oils but not alcohol. Antiseptic mouth rinses may be used to help speed healing. Essential oils such as tree tree oil and aloe vera are often used, as are herbal preparations with sage, thyme, calendula and goldenseal. If you are interested to create an herbal rise, consult a knowledgeable herbalist for the proper proportions of herbs and solvents to incorporate. If you are using essential oils, be sure the oils are pharmaceutical- and therapeutic-grade and enlist the expertise of an essential oils educator to help you use these substances most effectively and safely. A tried-and-true mouth rinse is simply a tablespoon of salt (Himalayan or sea salt is best) dissolved in a glass of warm water.

A paste made of organic virgin coconut oil honey and powdered turmeric can speed the healing of mouth sores, such as burns from hot foods or mouth ulcers. It not only tastes good, but the coconut oil, honey and turmeric all possess antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

There has been renewed interest in “natural” toothpastes—those available commercially as well as those made at home with recipes from the Internet. For an individual with no underlying dental problems or conditions, most toothpastes can be used, whether “natural,” homemade or commercially prepared. A toothpaste recipe that dates back more than 100 years involves mixing baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) with 3-percent hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide will kill many of the bacteria that cause periodontal disease, while the baking soda is a mild abrasive which will not hurt the tooth enamel. Some Internet recipes recommend adding lemon juice, but this is not recommended as the lemon juice demineralizes the teeth and compromises the integrity of the enamel, making the tooth more likely to decay. Some recipes add a few drops of peppermint oil to improve the flavor as the baking soda and hydrogen peroxide toothpaste is not very appetizing. If you want to add peppermint oil, be sure it is therapeutic- and pharmaceutical-grade—other grades are not to be taken orally.

Oil pulling—rinsing the mouth and vigorously swishing with coconut oil or sesame oil for 20 minutes and then spitting it out—has received lots of attention on the Internet in recent days. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that has been used for thousands of years. Proponents of this practice seek to pull out bacteria from deep under the gumline. In reality, vigorous rinsing with any liquid will help to dislodge the superficial bacteria from 1-2mm under the gumline but not from deeper places as some believe. The fact is, rinsing with any mouth rinse for longer than two or three minutes is difficult for most people—never mind doing it for 20. Some preliminary research suggests that bacteria dislodged by oil while pulling can actually be reabsorbed by the oral mucous membranes if the rinsing continues for longer than a few minutes.

Integrative dental care involves the whole person and the health and vitality of the individual. In the case of any bacterial or viral infection, it is our immune system that protects us. The health and strength of the immune system is often the determining factor in whether or not we develop further disease. Consuming foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is important to keep the immune system strong and healthy. Poor stress management compromises the immune system and creates vulnerability to infections as well as creates potential for development of other chronic diseases. Regular regimens of exercise, movement, recreation and rest positively influence our health and well-being.

A holistic approach and the delivery of integrative dental care examines and treats the whole person—body, mind, spirit and emotions—and must address all the factors that influence and determine good health and vitality.

Christel Autuori, RDH, RYT, MA, is a dental hygienist, yoga teacher, Reiki master, integrative health coach and stress management instructor. She is a consultant, educator and author and presents programs and workshops on health and wellness, stress management, yoga and integrative dental care. She is the director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at Western Connecticut State University and is the founder and owner of Integrative Health of Connecticut. Connect with her at IntegrativeHealthCT.com.