Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Giving a Holistic Approach a Chance

Is there such a thing as “alternative dentistry?”

We’ve co-opted the label “family dentistry” from “family medicine,” so why not the “alternative” from “alternative medicine”? What would “alternative dentistry” consist of?

If my experience with alternative medicine tells me anything, it would mean treating cavities with acupuncture and cod liver oil and meditation. Because those are natural treatments. “Ancient Chinese medicine,” ya know.


My experience with an autoimmune disease has been frustrating, to say the least. I’m sure some of my dental patients have been equally as frustrated when they have to suffer with the oral manifestations of their disease. But I wonder now if they seek out an “alternative dentist” to hopefully solve all their problems.

I know I did.

It started with a conversation with my orthodontist partner. Glenn is a smart, talkative, friendly guy and a superb clinician — not a quack. But he related his experience with an herbalist naturopath that actually sounded interesting. He suggested I give Edna a call. And I did.

I drove with my girlfriend to Edna’s office in an old house in a small Mississippi town about two hours away. She greeted us at the door — an 81-year-old spark plug of a woman. White hair piled up in a neat, tight bee-hive. Sharp gray dress. As soon as she shook my hand, the observations started, “Honey, he ain’t the marrying kind!” “You’re a perfectionist and like to get your way!”

Thanks, Edna.

Edna proudly announced that she hadn’t seen a real doctor in over 40 years and had no plans to ever see another. “I don’t want to leave a paper trail for those butchers” was how she put it. She told me about how she treated this guy in the waiting room with herbs and supplements after he nearly died at the hands of conventional medicine. She also talked about how she treated her daughter’s terminal cancer with grapefruit water or something. I smiled.

She took a perfunctory history and then started with a numerological look at my birth date and that of my mother. She scribbled something and then stated that her numbers showed a mineral imbalance that was biblical in origin. I nodded my head like I knew what she meant, but it flew by as nonsense.

In fact, most of it was nonsense. I played along and listened, but I was questioning each and every statement of hers. None of it was scientific or rational, but I went along. My girlfriend was furiously scribbling notes and focused like a laser on Edna. She took my hands and rubbed and squeezed and turned them over to examine my palms and made more comments. My girlfriend scribbled.

Then Edna had me sit back, took my feet in her lap, removed my shoes and socks, and proceeded for the next hour to thoroughly examine every square inch of them. She would squeeze and poke a spot and ask about my spleen or my liver or my kidney. She showed me a drawing of the human foot and how it is divided into regions that correspond with a particular organ since they all have origins in the feet. Did you know that? Me neither.

I had heard of the term “reflexology” but had no idea that it involved a connection between the organs and systems of the body and the feet. I heard anecdotes from my friend and my aunt about how Edna was able to discern physical problems of theirs by examination of their feet. I was amazed but suspicious. But more than anything I was hoping that Edna could do something effective for me.

She ended up suggesting that I take herbs such as corn silk, slippery elm, and hawthorn. They came in capsule form, and of course, she sold them.

And they did nothing — at least, not from what I could tell. But why had her treatment worked for others but not for me? Were they wrong? Was it my fault for not being completely mentally sold on her treatment? Was her treatment simply snake oil, or was there a lack of “faith” on my part?

Are dental patients like that sometimes? Is their dental problem in their mind?

I have a colleague nearby that is something of a snake-oil salesman, if what some of his patients and even his employees tell me is true. He told one woman that if she would “acidify” her body pH, she would prevent cancer. He has all sorts of concoctions to drink to prevent various ailments. He’s a dentist, mind you, trained in a scientific understanding of disease but has gone off the rails of rational thought.

It makes me wonder how many other dentists out there are open to alternative or holistic dental therapies. Anybody?

Bruce M. Scarborough, DMD, FAGD

2 comments:

Laurence Grayhills said...

Great blog!!! I would have loved to be there, watching Edna "do her thing." We recently had a well dug on our property. Mr. Heddon came out to the land, chewing tobacco in his mouth and diving rods in his hands. He was there to "witch the land." After only a few minutes, his wooden sticks crossed and he said, "right here." A well drilled in that location found water at 75 feet with 15 gallons per minute! Was it the rods, his "special" talent or the presence of the large hickory tree near by that clued him in to the location of the underground reservoir?

So many of the medications that we use today came from a botanical source. One of my heroes is Alexander Fleming, who "discovered" penicillin. When he saw the zone of inhibition around the particles that flew in from the open window onto his petri dishes, he deduced that something in those particles was killing the Staph that was growing on his cultures. Thus came his comment, "Chance favors the prepared mind," which has been one of my guiding mantras.

A large number of "neutraceuticals" are available to the public, many of which have demonstrated health effects, such as Turmeric, Red Yeast Rice, and the list goes on. One such naturally occurring element is Fluoride, the benefits of which to the dentition is well know and documented. It's also known that Xylitol has a known inhibitory effect on bacteria.

I was recently asked to write an article for a health magazine on ways to remove tartar at home. I suppose that one could brush with "Lime Away," but I don't recommend it. If there was a way to solve dental problems in a homeopathic manner, it would have been capitalized upon by the pharmaceutical industry long ago. To date, there is still no substitute for the skills and training of our dental professionals.

But then, who knows what the future will bring! "Chance favors the prepared mind!"

goostardmd said...

Thanks for your comment, Laurence!
And love the guitar!!!

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