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Holistic Dentistry: Is it Really all that Different?

By HERWriter
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After a couple of commenters left suggestions to look into holistic dentistry I decided to make it the subject of a future article.

For all the whoopla about it, I was rather surprised at how long it took me to find anywhere near credible information to explain to me why holistic dentistry was so different from conventional dentistry. Some information I needed a membership to read. Other information told visitors that the particular dental practitioner used holistic methods, but didn’t really explain what those methods were.

It took me about 10 minutes to sift through the Google results on “holistic dentistry” to finally find someone who could tell me what the difference was. It was good and thorough information, clearly listing the kinds of dental conditions holistic dentists could treat and how they did it. Exactly what I was looking for—sort of.

I was also looking for someone to tell me how holistic dental treatment differed and was better than conventional dentistry. I believe in doing things naturally. If there is a natural way of treating something or addressing something, I will do it. For example, I use a mouthwash that uses baking soda, witch hazel and natural peppermint; I used baking soda and vinegar to unclog my kitchen sink a little while ago; I buy natural toilet bowl cleaners and household cleansers that use lemon, orange oil, or other natural ingredients instead of bleach or ammonia.

Except for perhaps one or two differences, generally I found there to be no difference between holistic dentistry and conventional dentistry.

The Case for Holistic

Until I started looking into this subject for the purposes of writing this article, I had the impression that holistic dentists view conventional dentistry as barbaric, archaic and ultimately doing more harm than good. I had the impression that advocates for holistic dentistry believed that conventional dentists know nothing about these new methods (perhaps some dentists don’t, which is why I write these articles so at least their patients are informed about what’s out there).

Generally, though, I still don’t really see the point of promoting oneself as a “holistic” dentist. The general, conventional dentists and dental specialists I know (and know many quite well because of the nature of my work) all do the things that holistic dentists like to claim make them different and safer than everyone else.

I will provide a “tennis match” type comparison, here, to demonstrate what I mean.

Non-invasive and Non-surgical Approaches

Proponents of holistic dentistry or biologic dentistry hold that they provide patients with non-invasive and non-surgical preventative treatment alternatives. The implication being that conventional dentistry is invasive and always surgical and not focused on preventative. If conventional dentistry is not focused on preventative I wonder why I see my dentist every six months and why my dental hygienist recommends things I can do at home that can improve the condition of my teeth and gums? The purpose of these things is to “prevent” tooth decay, gum disease, periodontal disease, bad breath, etc.

My experience with dental professionals has been that they prefer a non-invasive, non-surgical approach so long as they are able to. There are certain circumstances where surgery may be indicated, but (with the exception of wisdom teeth – which is another topic entirely) that is always when all preventative and maintenance avenues have been exhausted.

Composite Fillings versus Amalgam Fillings

This argument is fully fleshed out in one of my other articles, but the general idea that holistic dentists advocate is the use of composite fillings instead of amalgam. They will also recommend that anyone with amalgam fillings in their mouth have them removed and have them removed by a “holistic” dentist who knows how to remove them. Tooth restorations should be done with inlays (tooth surface), onlays and crowns (full tooth structure restoration).

There is a difference here because many conventional dentists are still using mercury-based amalgam fillings, but composite fillings, porcelain, inlays, onlays and crowns are not exclusive to holistic dentists. A responsible dentist who knows what they’re doing will also be able to remove amalgam fillings properly. If you’re not sure what the protocol is, find out. If you’re not sure your dentist does, find out. Do not go through any treatment unless you are confident that your dentist does know what he/she is doing.

Increasingly, conventional dentists are switching to composite wherever possible and as dental research into composite materials increases the durability for high-pressure biting surfaces (molars) we may eventually see a natural decrease in the use of mercury fillings anyway.

Extraction instead of Root Canal Therapy

When a patient is considered for root canal therapy it is usually because there is extreme tooth decay, a fractured root or extreme periodontal disease, or some other event or condition that has compromised the tooth’s structure and functionality. As part of the consultation to determine the proper course of treatment, a dentist or root canal specialist (endodontist) will discuss other treatment options such as extraction of the tooth and prosthodontic replacement. (I find it interesting that my reading didn’t indicate an aversion by holistic dentists to not replacing these extracted teeth with titanium implants –a metal which has been shown to cause no allergic reaction—which is the standard of treatment for replacing missing teeth now).

The holistic focus here seems to be on the fact that in even successfully root canaled teeth –where all canals have been located and treated (sometimes a dentist may miss a canal or two)—can still contain bacteria in microscopic tubules in the treated tooth that can spread to other parts of the body. If a root canal is performed on a tooth, holistic dentists claim their root canal treatment methods are different because they use a calcium hydroxide rinse (calcium oxide, zinc oxide and an ethyl/glycol/water liquid) to flush out these tubules.

Conventional dentists and root canal specialists also use this rinse. Again, I’m not really sure where visiting a holistic dentist in this case presents any particular advantage over a conventional dentist.

Periodontal Disease

Holistic dentists claim that their treatments of deep cleaning, teeth scaling and root planing—the scraping away of plaque and tartar from gums—is a different method of treatment and preventative maintenance than you would receive from your conventional dentist and is an alternative to the “traditional” surgical treatment provided by conventional dentists. Not so.

In fact, cleaning, scaling and planing is standard preventative treatment for conventional dentists and dental specialists. If a conventional dentist can maintain oral health through these means and a specific tooth cleaning at-home protocol there will be no need for surgical treatment. Surgical treatment is only used as a last resort, not a “standard” treatment. If the non-invasive measures (cleaning, scaling and planing) are not completely successful, surgery may still be indicated. Non-invasive measures do not automatically preclude the possibility that surgery may be required in the future. For most patients, the non-invasive preventative measures will be sufficient. For others, they will not.


This is perhaps the most obvious difference between holistic and conventional dentistry. Conventional dentistry still espouses that fluoride in water and other sources is necessary for healthy teeth. Holistic dentistry argues otherwise (this debate is presented in my article, The Fluoride Debate: https://www.empowher.com/news/herarticle/2009/09/10/fluoride-debate) and advocates for the removal of fluoridization from the water treatment process.


Holistic dentistry purposes that occlusal adjustment, physical therapy, and medications are more non-invasive measures for treating TMJ issues. TMJ issues usually stem from a “malocclusion”—a misalignment of the teeth or jaws and compromising chewing efficiency or parafunctional habits (grinding, clenching) or injury to the orofacial complex. If your teeth and jaws are not optimally aligned, this can put undue pressure and stress on jaw muscles, ligaments, and joint structures.

Holistic dentistry claims their methods focus on reducing muscle spasm, swelling, and re-establishing or restoring the optimal relationship between teeth, muscles and joints.

The implication of this claim is that conventional dentistry doesn’t advocate for this kind of treatment for TMJ. But it does. Surgery is only used in very extreme cases, once all other avenues have been exhausted or the condition is determined to be one that won’t respond to traditional, non-invasive measures.

I won’t go so far as to say “holistic dentistry” is a crock. But in my experience the treatments they advocate for are used by conventional dentists—if your conventional dentist doesn’t use them it’s time to perhaps find someone else—and the treatments are not exclusive to those who claim to be holistic dentists.

Before engaging in any treatment, research it yourself, make sure you know what your dentist is doing—or should be doing—know your alternatives and make sure you discuss those with your dentist. In the end, you, the patient, have the right to say no to certain treatments even if your dentist advocates it. While I don’t recommend that patients always go against their dentist’s recommendations, my point is that you need to be aware of what’s going on in your mouth. If your dentist won’t discuss it, find someone who will. Make sure you’re confident that your dentist knows what they’re doing.

Be an educated patient.

Sources: www.thenaturalguide.com, www.holisticdentalnetwork.com

Add a Comment6 Comments


Very enlightening discussion. As the Dr's story pointed out any health professional whether it be a physician or dentist they must be knowledgeable on all aspects of their field as well as be open to communications to make patients feel at ease for their particular treatments.

December 7, 2012 - 9:27am

Not a problem. I appreciated the article. It pointed out something that was sorely missing on our website: a clarification of what the differences are between "traditional" and "holistic" dentistry. We really strive to provide complete information on our site and your article has prompted us to add a few new things; namely: an article describing the differences and what to look for when choosing a dentist and a series of "position papers" so people will know exactly where we stand on many of the topics you touched on (fluoride, implants, root canals, amalgam fillings, root planings, etc.).
I agree wholeheartedly in your comment that people "have the right to ask questions. They have a right to know what's going on. That they don't have to trust implicitly." For far too long people have trusted their medical and dental advisers implicitly. While most dentists are good people who want to look out for your best interests, the fact remains that no two people have the same "best interests" and their are alternatives out there. It's more than just your right to ask questions of your medical and dental advisers, it's your duty.
Here's a great example: One of my employees recently took his daughter to the pediatrician. When the ped prescribed fluoride drops for his daughter, he asked why. The doctor was taken aback and responded with "because it will help her." After further questioning from my employee, the doctor essentially said 'because it's industry standard and I'm the doctor, that's why.' Now the doctor was doing what he believed to be the "right thing" for my employee's daughter. Unfortunately, he couldn't cite even one source that pointed to the benefits of ingested fluoride for infants or to one study that refuted the potential dangers. My employee wasn't combative or argumentative, he just wanted to look out for his daughter's best interests... which differed from what the doctor assumed they would be.
We all have a duty and a right to question the philosophies, training, background, and decisions made by anyone in the medical or dental fields. It is, after all, YOUR health we're talking about.
Thank you again for the great article. Hopefully people will read your research and be empowered to make informed decisions about their dental care.
Dr. Marvin
PS: The new articles that you've spurred will start appearing on our website today. Thank you for helping us fill a void that we had missed. We really want to be a complete resource for a patient's holistic, natural, and traditional dental options.

October 8, 2009 - 10:07am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Dr. Marvin)

You will absolutely get motivated to increased your concerns
on your dental hygiene once you undergone a dental makeover for sure.
Your drinking and eating habits will be considered as to prevent darkening or staining of your teeth.
As a good result, your health will improve.

Here is my site: Albany Dentist Experts

July 21, 2017 - 10:18am
HERWriter (reply to Dr. Marvin)

I'm glad I was able to help. Wow!

I think it is so important for people to know they have options. I think it's so important for dentist like you to speak up so your voice doesn't get buried. You come across as a dentist that truly cares about your patients and knows what they're doing. I work for an endodontist who does the same, and worked for an oral surgery practice that did the same.

Perhaps as more information becomes available and more evidence comes available about how these methods work compared to traditional dentistry, more people and more dental practitioners and specialists will look on it more seriously and start integrating more of the practices.

The sad thing is that people should be able to implicitly trust their health care and dental care providers, but the many cases of abuse and improper treatment or recommendations means that we can't always trust implicity.

October 8, 2009 - 10:26am

Darlene. Thanks for the well-thought out article. As an holistic dentist (and former "traditional" dentist and dental school professor) I agree with you on many points and disagree on others. Without going into specifics on the various subtopics, I'll just point out a few things that make our holistic dental practice different. But before I do that, I think it should be made aware that the every dentist is different and to place one dentist in the "holistic" group and another in the "conventional" group is not a good way to segment all dentists. I'll admit that there are dentists who call themselves holistic (for marketing or differentiation reasons) and the only thing they do is not place mercury fillings. On the flipside, there are conventional dentist who perform complex, comprehensive dentistry that involves more than the teeth and gums... it involves the face, head, neck.... the whole body... hence the "wholistic" nature of what they do, yet they don't call themselves holistic. To say that a dentist is one or the other is not always accurate.

In my practice, I have put more emphasis on a more natural or holistic approach to dentistry. Let's talk about natural first. You mentioned that you would use a more natural cleanser for your house. I use a more natural cleanser for the mouth (as you state that you do). I don't use alcohol or artificial sweeteners in the products we use with our patients.
Do you use drugs to treat diseases? Or do you try to find a drug-less alternative? Many conventional dentists are ok with prescribing antibiotics and steroids to deal with infections. I avoid giving meds to decrease incidences of unwanted side effects and building antibiotic resistance.

Sure... everyone promotes and advocates prevention... who doesn't? But time, money, insurance, and the bottom line dictates that preventive education is not being done... especially in a dental office where overhead eats at the profits as each minute ticks by. If indeed all dentists were good at preventing decay, gum disease, cancers, tooth loss, then why do people continue to have problems and need to visit the dentists twice a year? (Most of our patients don't need to visit us every 6 months because they properly care for themselves at home, eliminating the need for them to pay for our services every 6 months.) In our office we go much further than the traditional "floss, brush, rinse" education you get at most dental offices. We emphasize that disease can be prevented with proper nutrition as well as proper daily care and we spend plenty of time in that area. Also, to simply remind you to floss and brush for 2 minutes is an over-simplification of proper oral hygiene techniques -- again, this is typically done to save time and get more patients in and out of the office. Has a dentist ever explained to you that by brushing your teeth, the goal is not to brush the surface area but to lightly brush plaque away from below to gum line? Has your dentist explained that flossing is not about removing food particles from between the teeth, but removing plaque from below the gumline?

Again... some dentists do put an emphasis on proper role hygiene and some dentists don't. All I can say is what we do with each patient.
The word holistic is not a reflection of the practices and techniques used by the dentist, but of an overall philosophy of the role of oral care. The word itself comes from "wholistic" meaning "the whole." Truly holistic dentists will educate patients on the importance of overall health and how dentistry can play a role in the overall health.
All dentists to some extent see the importance of the mouth in the overall health of an individual. For instance, studies have concluded a link between gum disease and heart health, diabetes, and pregnancies. However, many dentists are not trained in the long term effects of what dentistry does (or could possibly do) to the whole body. Hence the reason the field of holistic dentistry was formed. As I tell my patients, we do dentistry that is good for the body as well as teeth and gums.
Here are some examples:
When it comes to teeth alignment, many dentists -- including pediatric dentists and orthodontists -- look at putting teeth into a position where they look good together. Other dentists look how smile looks in relationship to the face. Other dentists look at how the teeth come together and how it can affect the TMJ, the muscles, the cervical spine, and the rest of the body. Dentists have different levels of understanding... some just have a more holistic view than others.
Materials: One key difference with holistic dentists is they use materials that are biocompatible... or healthy to the whole body. This goes deeper than simply removing amalgam fillings. For instance, there are several different types of composite fillings. Has your dentist ever checked to see which composition would work best with your body? Have you ever been offered a choice?
To summarize, lumping all dentists into two categories doesn't really work. I understand the point of your article is to help your readers make an informed choice when they hear the hype surrounding holistic dentistry. Unfortunately, some "holistic dentists" use the label to capitalize on a trendy field. Some "traditional dentists" take a very holistic approach to how they care for your mouth and your whole body.
For anyone who is looking to cut through the hype and make an informed decision, I would offer this suggestion: if you want a dentist who understands the vital role of oral hygiene in your overall health, ask questions that will reveal their philosophies. Questions such as "how do you determine which type of filling is right for me?" and "if I get cavities in one area of my mouth, can you tell me why?" should help (for the former, any answer that doesn't involve insurance or expense will typically reveal an holistic dentist. For the latter, you would be looking for someone who will talk about your bite and your nutrition... not someone who just tells you to brush better and eat less candy).
Do truly holistic dentists exist? You bet. I'd like to think we are one such practice and I know of several others whom I've worked with in the past. Does the term generate a lot of hype that you need to cut through? Definitely. Find a dentist who has your overall health in his or her best interests and you've found a good, holistic dentist that you should book your appointment with right away.
Hope that helps clear it up a bit. Thanks again for your article... it's a great primer on the "traditional/holistic" dentist debate!
Dr. Marvin
The Center for Natural Dentistry
Encinitas, California

October 7, 2009 - 2:37pm
HERWriter (reply to Dr. Marvin)

Thank you, Dr. Marvin, for the clarification. It's one thing I tried to find on the Internet. As I stated in my article it took me a while to find anything on any sort of differences.

And no you certainly can't lump all dentists into one category.

I write out of my experiences in dentistry with all specialties -- certainly not as in depth as you, mind you -- but I write with a hope of getting people to realize there are options. That they have the right to ask questions. They have a right to know what's going on. That they don't have to trust implicitly. They have a right to have their treatment provided by someone else if they don't feel comfortable with the treatment they're receiving.

I agree that it really comes down to how a dentist has been trained and what their experience has taught them. For example, I know of one oral surgeon who earned his DDS before dental implants came out and has 25 years of experience placing them. Another oral surgeon in the same practice, just graduated a few years ago where he specialized in dental impantology and bone grafting. So he comes out of school with the head knowledge, while the older doctor has the advantage of experience. Both are amazing oral surgeons, highly skilled and very knowledgeable. Together they make an amazing team.

Yes...very interesting discussion. Thank you for providing your thoughts. You certainly cleared up a lot of questions for me.

October 7, 2009 - 3:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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