Local Dentists View the Mouth as a Pathway to Whole-Body Health
Feb 01, 2016 11:30AM
● By Linda Sechrist
The science of prevention and wellness—at the forefront of holistic functional medicine—has been the focus of the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology (IAOMT) since 1984. Today, the academy and its 700 members have not only chronicled and promoted research proving beyond a reasonable doubt that dental amalgam is a source of significant mercury exposure, but they have also taken the lead in educating dentists and allied professionals in the development of more biocompatible approaches in areas such as endodontics, periodontics and disease prevention.
This biocompatible approach, recognized more broadly today as biological dentistry and oral systemic health, now applies to all facets of dental practice, as well as health care in general. Currently, the membership of the International Association of Physiological Aesthetics (IAPA), the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health and the Holistic Dental Association join IAOMT in promoting an awareness of dental care as it relates to the entire person.
Individuals new to this approach may be surprised to discover that the mouth—gums, tongue, teeth and throat—is a window through which to view the overall health of the body. However, patients, who occupy the dental chairs of several area dentists such as Dr. Owen Allison, DMD, Susquehanna Dental Arts in Columbia and Dr. David Schwartz, DDS, owner of David A. Schwartz, DDS, in Wyomissing, are accustomed to discussing overall health and well-being as well as mercury toxicity and sleeping/breathing patterns that are the cause of sleep apnea.
Just as medical science’s evolving comprehension of the physiological workings of the body make their way into treatments, new understanding regarding the development of facial muscles and bones, form and function, as well as dental malocclusion have made their way into areas such as orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT). The multidisciplinary education and training of licensed professionals in the areas of dental hygiene, dentistry, speech pathology, medicine and nursing has led to OMT therapeutic programs and neuromuscular dentistry, which when combined with orthodontic treatment, are capable of establishing new neuromuscular patterns and correcting chewing/swallowing/eating patterns. If left untreated, these issues can eventually lead to sleep apnea.
Although dentists and doctors realize that an infection in a tooth can spread to other parts of the body and 830,000 annual emergency room visits arise from preventable dental problems (according to the most recent Senate subcommittee report), dentistry and medicine are not treated in the same way, either by the medical system or public insurance programs. However, as we learn about how health problems, such as sleep apnea, start with the mouth and impact the rest of our body, this separation is increasingly impossible to rationalize.
Allison, an IAOMT member, has been a biological dentist for 20 years. While he offers a full range of holistic services, his main thrust at present is mercury rehabilitation. When necessary, he refers patients out for chelation after their mercury removal. “Originally, chelation held people captive for time-consuming intravenous treatments, but now it’s done with oral neutraceuticals,” he remarks.
Allison’s concern for a patient’s brain that could be deprived of a sufficient stream of oxygen due to airway concerns, such as snoring and sleep apnea, comes from personal experience. “I wasn’t aware of my sleep apnea until after my sleep study. I was hooked on the device after the first night of restful sleep—even though I had something foreign in my mouth. If I am not sleeping soundly and wake up in the middle of the night, it’s generally because I forgot to put my device in,” advises Allison.
Allison specializes in mini dental implant placement. A much easier procedure for an individual to tolerate, minis are about one-third the size of other implants. Made of solid titanium, they easily integrate with the bone and are placed without the drilling of a larger hole made by typical implants. There is also no suturing required. “It’s a much more streamlined process and less costly,” says Allison.
While the number of dentists who practice under the biological shingle is slowly growing, there are wellness-oriented dentists, who strive to learn and train in similar protocols. Schwartz provides an example of how his “whole body dentistry” philosophy is emerging naturally among dentists.
Looking at the body as a series of independent parts has always seemed silly to Schwartz. Physiology, how the body works, interconnects and interacts with itself and its environment, has been his long-time fascination. “Which is why I understand just how important the mouth is to the overall well-being of my patients,” he says.
For Schwartz, the mouth has far more function than chewing and mixing food with digestive enzymes from the saliva. “It’s part of the balance system, the postural system and the secondary means to get oxygen into the body. Two-thirds of the largest nerve that emerges from the brain, the trigeminal, is responsible for sensations in the face as well as motor functions such as biting and chewing,” explains Schwartz, who points out that our neck posture is supported best and will maintain its good alignment if the position of our jaws are correct and stabilized by a bite that is held by good muscle harmony.
“Head and neck muscles that are not in harmony are working much of the day, versus resting and working only as needed. During sleep, these fatigued muscles more easily collapse, compromising the airway and leading to sleep apnea, which can be managed if the necessary steps are taken to reduce risk factors. “Knowledge is always the key,” advises Schwartz, who cites an example of how his knowledge benefited a male patient with temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).
Schwartz’s patient consulted an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), was referred out for a sleep study at a local center and was diagnosed with mild/moderate obstructive sleep apnea. The man did not want to try a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine, which is a treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open. His ENT referred him out to an oral surgeon, who agreed that a $2,000 oral appliance (covered by insurance) was needed.
Upon reading a copy of the sleep report, Schwartz discovered that everyone involved totally missed the fact that the man had “positional sleep apnea”, which meant that his apnea was only severe while sleeping on his back, mild on his left side and normal on his right side.
“I informed my patient he does not need an appliance if he can lose 10 pounds and train himself to sleep on his side—especially his right. I taught him how to train himself,” explains Schwartz. “Although it may not work if he isn’t consistent with his self-training, at least he now knows his real problem and alternatives for treating it.”
In general, today’s biological dentists who specialize in oral systemic health are interested in the overall health of the individual. Proactive, they encourage their patients to take a more active and responsible role, not only in creating beautiful smiles, but also a healthier body.
Susquehanna Dental Arts is located at 100 S. 18th St., in Columbia. For more information, call 717-285-7033 or visit SusquehannaDentalArts.com.
David A. Schwartz, DDS, is located at 9 Bristol Crt., in Wyomissing. For more information, call 610-670-6910 or visit SchwartzFamilyDental.com.
Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings. Connect at ItsAllAboutWe.com.