Local Dentists See the Mouth as a Pathway to Whole-Body Health
Jan 26, 2016 03:58PM
● 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 and 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, they have also taken the lead in educating dentists and allied professionals in the development of more biocompatible approaches in areas such as endodontics, orthodontics, 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 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—including gums, tongue, teeth and throat—is a window through which we can view the overall well-being of the body. Patients of several area dentists such as Alla Aver, DDS, at A Center for Dental Healing, in Glenview; Andie T. Pearson, DMD, of Gaiamed Dental, in Wilmette; Bernice Teplitsky, DDS, of Wrigleyville Dental, in Chicago; and Kenneth Boehm, DDS, of K. Boehm & Associates, in Hoffman Estates and Lisle; are quite accustomed to discussing subjects such as diet, eating habits, sleep schedules, breathing patterns, diabetes, heart disease, thyroid issues or mercury toxicity while sitting in their dental chair. These dental professionals and others estimate that approximately 75 percent of patients are holistically minded, interested in getting to the root cause of problems and open to helpful discussions and learning opportunities.
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 that when combined with orthodontic treatment, are capable of establishing new neuromuscular patterns and correcting chewing/swallowing/tongue positioning/eating patterns which, if left untreated, can lead to sleep apnea. Early correction is essential, which is why dentists focused on oral systemic health make a point to educate not only parents of their young patients, but also adults that want a more beautiful and healthy smile.
Pearson talks to parents regarding their child’s sleep patterns, daytime drowsiness and fatigue patterns, which are typical of sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea. “Trouble focusing, open-mouth breathing, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, teeth grinding, snoring, allergies, sleepwalking and bedwetting are other signs in children that benefit from orthodontics and orofacial myology, which can assist in normal dental development and eliminate cosmetic problems. When combined, the two treatments can eliminate the symptoms and reduce the occurrence of sleep apnea,” says Pearson, who notes that children as young as 2 or 3 can wear the Healthy Start/Orthotain oral appliance system, which is fitted to the size of their mouth. The system has been used since the early 1970s as a method to create healthy sleep patterns, straighten teeth, correct tongue placement and assist in creating a healthy cranial (skull) system.
Aver notes that new patients are sometimes surprised to hear her questions about sleep patterns. “Few of them talk to their physician about it, particularly if it concerns snoring, which they consider normal. It’s not uncommon for a male patient to tell me that his wife moved to another bedroom because of his snoring. Patients are particularly appreciative when they learn that although obstructive sleep apnea is hazardous to their health, it can be confirmed with a sleep study and corrected with an oral appliance; not just the continuous positive airway pressure [CPAP] machine,” says Aver, who notes that sleep studies can now be done at home, rather than only at a clinic, where sleep specialists refer individuals to dentists for the treatment of moderate cases.
Pet allergies sometimes cause airway issues. “I’ve had patients who preferred to sleep using a CPAP machine rather than give their dog or cat away,” advises Aver, who is trained in orthotropics, an alternative to straightening teeth without extractions and surgery. She also teaches patients breathing exercises that reeducate the tongue and offers tips such as sleeping with the windows open, taking the herb valerian root and using therapeutic-grade, lavender essential oil to induce nighttime relaxation.
Boehm, immediate past president of the Holistic Dental Association and member of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, converses with patients regarding newer orthodontic protocols. “Orthotropics uses removable functional appliances as part of a treatment plan and no longer calls for removing bicuspid (premolar) teeth. Traditional orthodontics has long favored the extraction of these teeth in the dental arches at the sides of the mouth to make room for realigning remaining permanent teeth. This often makes the dental arches smaller and leaves less room for the resting position of the tongue. It’s important for parents to recognize that traditional treatment has a profound effect on the jaw development of their child. A patient’s teeth crowding issues are generally issues with the jaw, which should be encouraged to grow forward, generally eliminating future airway issues such as sleep apnea,” he says.
Teplitsky, who also uses biobloc orthotropics and myofunctional therapy, along with treating cases with a local holistic orthodontist, advises that there are differing sets of diagnostic risk indicators of airway disturbance in children and adults. Some indicators in adults include diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia and an enlarged neck circumference. “Men with a neck circumference greater than 17 inches and women with more than 16 inches may be at risk. To confirm that patients are suffering from some level of sleep apnea, I work with a sleep study company that can bring the machine into the individual’s home for a night. The results may be more accurate when the patient is most comfortable,” notes Teplitsky, who has been educated on sleep-disordered breathing and airway focused dentistry. This type of education enhances patients’ long-term treatment outcomes for both adults and children, providing them with not only healthier teeth, but with the ability to breathe and sleep better.
In general, today’s biological dentists specializing in oral systemic health are interested in the overall health of the individual. They proactively encourage individuals to take a more active role in creating a healthier body, as well as beautiful smiles.
A Center for Dental Healing, 1300 Waukegan Rd., Glenview, 847-998-5100.
Gaiamed Dental, 929 Ridge Rd., Wilmette, 847-977-1655. HolisticDentalChicago.com.
K. Boehm and Associates, 1585 N. Barrington Rd., Ste. 106, Hoffman Estates, 847-884-1220 and 1140 Maple Ave., Ste. 2A, Lisle, 630-810-1280, KBoehmdds.com.
Wrigleyville Dental, 3256 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, 773-975-6666, WrigleyvilleDental.com.
Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings. Connect at ItsAllAboutWe.com.