Why Your Dentist Can See Your Disease Before You Do
In the summer of 1980, I was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains. I was prepped for and had an emergency appendectomy. It turned out my appendix was fine, but I had Crohn's disease.
For the next 14 years, I faced an uphill battle to function and stay alive. I was constantly run down, and had to repeat my first year of dental school after taking a medical leave in the first five weeks of school. I was unable to work regularly, on disability, and almost bankrupt.
I visited many of the best doctors in New York City, and they all told me there was no cure for my illness. I was told my disease could only be palliated with drugs and surgery until the next flare up. So, every six months, I was advised to have another surgery to palliate my infection and symptoms.
What I later learned was that I was being treated only for the symptoms. Through many, many surgeries, I had several body parts removed (my appendix, eleven inches of my small intestine, the ileocecal valve and rectal muscles). With any more surgeries and no guarantee of success, I feared there would be no more body parts left... and I'd only continue to get sicker.
On top of all this, I was not eating well. I was not exercising. I was not drinking enough water. I was not taking the proper minerals or supplements. I was thinking about my body as a machine and not as an organism — but so were the physicians I was seeing.
I'd have severe night sweats, needing to change my T-shirt seven times in one night. I couldn’t keep food down and got down weighing128 pounds. This was at a time in my career when I was supposed to be helping other people, yet I could barely get out of bed!
But get out of bed I did, and it changed my life. After recovering from my fourth surgery in 1994, I wanted to get back to taking continuing education courses for conventional dentistry. I attended The American Academy of Craniofacial Pain’s yearly symposium. It was a way for me to expand my knowledge on treating patients with TMJ dysfunction, which is a kind of jaw pain.
There, I saw a presentation given by two integrative doctors on the subject of chronic pain and disease. They discussed how gluten can cause Crohn’s disease. This was something I had never been told before by any of my doctors or surgeons. At the end of the presentation, I told my story to the integrative practitioner. She did something very foreign to me: muscle testing (kinesiology) and discovered I had a gluten allergy.
Keep in mind that in this day and age there was no internet and health blogs like MindBodyGreen ... and frankly I had no idea what gluten was. (Pretzels? Surely those were gluten free, right?)
After a quick learning curve, I started to eliminate gluten from my diet. Miraculously, to my doctor’s surprise, all of my symptoms went away after five days.
After learning how different food sensitivity can cause severe illness, I decided to not only become a patient, but to attend seminars teaching integrative medical and dental wellness principles. I learned that wellness requires medical and dental principles to be applied as a single entity. Each principle affects the other.
As a holistic dentist, I continued learning and applying these wellness principles of health and prevention. My wellness transformation has since gone beyond understanding the negative effects of mercury/amalgam fillings and fluoride and has taken them to a new level.
I had spent years in pain, but thanks to the advice of alternative doctors, I learned the keys to healing myself, wife, kids and patients. I believe everything happens for a reason and through one chance encounter I was introduced to a whole new world of holistic dentistry, medicine and beyond.
Since then I have learned about proper nutrition, the importance of exercise, sufficient sleep, stress reduction, vitamins and minerals, etc. And as a result, I have spent the past 12 years of my life planning and building a green, sustainable dental practice, while teaching my patients that the health of our teeth goes beyond cavities and bleeding gums; it affects our entire body.
As was the case with my illness, I have realized the key to oral health is not to just fix the symptoms (i.e.: cavities) but to sustain the health of the entire body to benefit the mouth and vice versa. I learned to apply the same universal laws that govern nature to treat my body as an organism and not as a machine.
As a result of my personal experience and awareness, I went from practicing Holistic Dentistry to developing a new discipline and practicing what I call Sustainable Dentistry, a process that follows the laws of nature to heal the mouth and the body as a whole. The simple definition of sustainability is "improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems."
It is my belief we are all part of the earth and its eco-system. I believe the body and mouth wants to follow the same laws that keep our earth healthy and sustainable. (i.e. trees do not thrive with acid rain, plants like to be loved, cared for and talked to – go HUG A TREE!) We use these principles to teach our patients to truly prevent cavities, avoid gum surgery, and tooth extractions and thus the need for very costly dentistry.
The mouth is the gateway to patients’ overall health, because our mouth shows the symptoms of disease way before you see it in the rest of the body. All of dentistry has embraced the term Oral Systemic Link – chronic hidden infection in the mouth can have a negative affect when it comes to heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, preterm birth, etc.
Therefore, I believe that dental disease is a barometer for overall systemic disease. If we find the problems in the mouth now, these problems may lead us to other systemic problems, which we can then address before they lead to a bigger problem. Therefore, properly identifying and treating this hidden chronic oral infection along with your other full body wellness programs are extremely important if you are dealing with your own chronic disease or illness.
Although Sustainable Dentistry is a concept not yet understood by many dentists, the ideas of the Oral System link are. Perform an internet search and you'll find a dental practice that understands those specific concepts. It is my hope that in the near future more dentists will be applying the principles of Sustainable Dentistry.