Chances are your family doctor has never looked at your teeth. That’s an oversight. The condition of your teeth and gums reflects the health of the rest of your body and can offer insight into your vulnerability for cancer, heart disease and other devastating conditions. The cutting-edge field of holistic dentistry is designed to bridge this knowledge gap, because keeping your mouth and teeth healthy can keep the rest of you from getting sick.
They Don’t Ask, They Can’t Tell
Very few general medical practitioners ever ask about the health of their patients’ teeth. Hardly any oncologists ask whether their cancer patients have root canals or mercury amalgam fillings. As a result, most medical doctors steer clear of making recommendations about dental health. When you visit the doctor and are asked to stick out your tongue for a health exam, it is only to look at your throat.
In Western medicine, we have severed the perception of connections between dental health and overall physical well-being. As a result, we have lost a critical vantage point for evaluating the potential root causes of many life-threatening conditions such as cancer, heart disease, immune disorders and more. The good news is this lifesaving integrative perspective is proving its value through the cutting edge field of holistic, or biological, dentistry.
Regular Dentistry vs. Holistic (Biological) Dentistry
Most conventional dentists are only dimly aware of connections between gum disease, chronic dental infection and overall health. Dentists rarely refer you back to your doctor for further testing or give more than the fairly superficial, though important, advice about brushing, flossing and diet. On the other hand, holistic dentistry takes an in-depth look at dental and overall health, guided by leading research in the field. In particular, holistic dentistry looks hard at the relationship between conventional root canals, periodontal disease, mercury amalgam fillings and other all-too-common dental issues and the progression of any number of chronic diseases throughout the body.
In traditional medical systems, such as Chinese and Tibetan medicine, the examination of the mouth and tongue represents a primary diagnostic tool for gathering information about imbalances in the rest of the body. Today, more and more skilled holistic practitioners and dentists are working together within the field of integrative medicine to collaborate on optimal treatment programs for patients. The holistic dentistry movement is gaining a widening appreciation of the holistic perspectives implicit in traditional healing systems and is being driven by the growing body of published research linking dental health issues and chronic illness. Repeatedly, patients with serious, life-threatening illnesses have experienced dramatic health improvements after skilled holistic dentists have coordinated their evaluations and treatments with integrative health practitioners.
Dental Health Linked To Cancer
Of special importance is the link between cancer and dental health. This is an area on the cutting edge of cancer investigation, and scientists have not yet agreed whether there is a direct cause. From a clinical standpoint, however, I, along with many of my colleagues, have seen time and again that there is a strong correlation between chronic infection associated with root canals and the presence of cancer.
Even more interesting, from an integrative medical perspective, each tooth has associated acu-meridian tooth-organ relationships. (In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body is home to lines of force — acu-meridians also known as acupuncture meridians — that connect various organs.) Different acupuncture meridians run through the teeth, and specific organs and tissues are associated with each tooth. A chart developed by Dr. Ralph Wilson which you can see here outlines the relationship between each tooth and its associated organs, glands and body areas.
Infected Root Canals Often Don’t Show Symptoms
The most concerning finding in holistic dentistry is that extensive infection can be present in a root canal as well as the bone of the jaw which holds the tooth, in the absence of any direct symptoms. All too often, we rely on our subjective experience of symptoms (like pain) to warn us of problems. In this case, these warnings come usually after significant damage is done, so it is crucial to get proper dental evaluation and testing with regard to root canals and periodontal disease.
At Amitabha Medical Clinic, we refer our patients with root canals for what is called a cone beam scan, which is essentially a CT (or computed tomography) scan of the mouth. A cone beam scan produces 3D digitalized imagery on the computer screen, revealing details which a classic full mouth X-ray does not detect. These scans can tell practitioners whether there is chronic infection in the root of a tooth which needs to be addressed using careful and thorough methods. I encourage my cancer patients to limit the number of CT scans they have because of issues with cumulative radiation; but if you have root canals, the cone beam scan may be the only way to evaluate them. I think it’s worth doing, and the radiation exposure is much lower than a traditional CT. The truth is, the dental profession is largely ignoring the long-term effects of the root canal procedure. For this reason, I encourage you to seek out holistic dentists who have the knowledge and the tools to help you deal with root canals and other common dental issues in a careful and competent way.
The importance of addressing these types of health issues with an integrative approach are evident in these examples:
- A patient with Stage III colon cancer was found to have infection (with no symptoms) in the root canal associated with the colon. Upon further examination of old dental X-rays, it was found that the tooth had been cracked for many years prior to the root canal. Therefore, it most likely had been chronically infected for a long time prior to the root canal placement and before the colon cancer diagnosis.
- A patient with metastatic breast cancer (with no symptoms) and with several old root canals who was not responding well to her chemotherapy treatments was found to have occult infection in the tooth associated with the breast on the same side as the cancer. The bone above the tooth was almost completely destroyed; the tooth was barely connected. The infected teeth were removed and the area was sterilized with ozone, a specialized form of oxygen therapy. After clearing up the infection, the patient had a better response to the same chemotherapy regimen.
- A patient with endometrial (uterine) cancer who was not responding to treatment and whose surgical scar would not heal because of infection was found to have an extensive infection in the tooth associated with the uterus. She had no oral symptoms. When the tooth was removed, her surgical wound healed quickly, and she began to have a positive response to her chemotherapy regimen.
The Future of Integrative Cancer Therapy
As a health practitioner who specializes in integrative cancer care, I can cite numerous similar clinical examples highlighting the correlations I have seen between dental health and cancer, and the positive effects of clearing up chronic infections in the mouth. Even though we don’t yet understand all of the underlying mechanisms, we have enough evidence to recognize the seriousness and the importance of attention to this area of health. As more and more published research points to the connections between root canals, mercury amalgams, periodontal disease and chronic illnesses, I encourage all of my readers and patients to become familiar with this important area of integrative health. Stay tuned.