Mouth Matters: A Holistic Approach to Oral Health
Body, Mind, Teeth
Dialogue With Dentists
What are you filling the cavity with? Just say no to amalgam, a mixture of heavy metals, of which about half is elemental mercury that slowly releases toxic vapors. Plus, “Heavy metals can leak into the enamel tubes of the teeth causing the teeth to appear gray or dark blue and making them brittle over time,” warns Los Angeles cosmetic dentist Rhonda Kalasho. Instead, ask for relatively nontoxic options such as porcelain or composite resins, which can be made of materials such as silica, ceramic, plastics and zirconium oxide. Some composite resins contain the endocrine disrupters Bis-GMA or BPA; for extra protection, ask for one that doesn’t, or ask the dentist to use a rubber dam to prevent swallowing it.
Should I have my amalgam fillings removed? Holistic dentists like Patel give a strong yes. “The problem arises with mercury when you chew or brush your teeth. The abrasion creates heat and causes the mercury to off-gas. Those vapors get swallowed and go into your body, where they’re stored—and that creates significant health hazards—because we’re talking about a known poison,” she says. Other dentists disagree about removal, citing its risks: Holistic pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil, for example, writes that removing amalgam fillings is often unnecessary, costly and stressful, and recommends exchanging them for composite resin only when they break down.
Do I really need antibiotics? Oregon State University researchers found in a study this year of 90,000 patients that the antibiotics often prescribed by dentists as prevention against infection are unnecessary 81 percent of the time, and contribute to antibiotic resistance. Typically, patients didn’t have the precise cardiac conditions that warranted the extra caution.
Is a root canal the best option? Some holistic dentists counsel against root canals, citing the risk of long-term health problems caused by lingering bacteria, and advocate the use of herbs, laser therapy or extractions instead. “If root canals were done 20 to 30 years ago, it is definitely a problem, because there were not enough technological advances to clean out all the bacteria which could cause chronic health complications,” says Patel. “Nowadays, depending on the tooth root, canals can be 99.9 percent cleaned by lasers.”
Back to the Basics
Toothbrush: Electric toothbrushes reduced plaque 21 percent more and gingivitis 11 percent more after three months compared to manual toothbrushes, reported a review of 56 studies involving 5,068 participants. Those that rotate rather than brush back-and-forth clean slightly better.
Toothpaste: Study the labels and be wary of the following ingredients: fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan and sodium hydroxide. These ingredients are a plus: baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), green tea, Eucalyptol, menthol, tea tree oil and vitamin D.
Flossing: Some smooth, slippery flosses are coated with toxic, Teflon-like perfluorinated polymers linked to kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and hormonal disruptions. A recent study found higher levels in women using those flosses. Instead, use the old-fashioned nylon kind or try out new flosses made of biodegradable silk or bamboo or those infused with antimicrobial tea tree oil. Or, consider a water flosser, which Canadian researchers found were 29 percent more effective at plaque removal than string floss.
Mouthwash: Mouthwashes containing alcohol significantly raise the risk of throat cancer, Australian researchers found. Instead, opt for super-healthy green tea as a mouthwash, as well as a drink. Studies show that it protects teeth from erosion and promotes healthy gums. Another simple option is warm salt water, using one cup of water and one-half teaspoon of salt. A 2017 study by the Cochrane medical study organization found it is virtually as effective as the prescription antiseptic mouthwash chlorhexidine in reducing dental plaque and microbes.
Pulling: An ancient Ayurvedic remedy, this involves swishing a spoonful of organic coconut oil around the mouth and through the teeth for 10 to 20 minutes. The oil’s lauric acid, a natural antibacterial, has been found in studies to reduce plaque formation and fungal infections, as well as the strains of bacteria linked to bad breath and irritated gums.
Ronica A. O’Hara is a Denver-based natural health writer. Connect at [email protected]