Thursday, January 10, 2013

holistic dentistry: my experiences so far

a few months ago, i heard that there was such a thing as holistic dentistry, and i got excited.  i wondered if there were any holistic dentists nearby and was happy to find that there is one just about two miles from our house!  holistic dentists are pretty rare, so i was pretty surprised to find one so accessible.

'Colors' photo (c) 2008, Gunjan Karun - license:
the choice

finding the dentist was just the first step.  the next step was actually figuring out whether or not we would go to him.  you see, this dentist (and many holistic practitioners) does not accept insurance.  the reason is because insurance companies only pay practitioners to do things exactly the way they want them to be done, and insurance companies are businesses- they are looking to cut costs.  on the other hand, most holistic practitioners are very patient-centered, and will spend much more time on each patient than the insurance company is willing to pay for.  furthermore, insurance companies will often only pay a practitioner to treat each condition one specific way, rather than recognizing that different treatments work for different patients.

so, the choice was whether we would pay for dental insurance through alex's work or if we would decide to start going to dr. mcbride (our local holistic dentist).  long story short, we decided to give dr. mcbride a shot.

my experience

so far, i have had 3 appointments with dr. mcbride, all within the last month.  this may sound like a lot of appointments, so let me explain how he does things.

my first appointment was an hour and a half (!) long and almost the whole time i was with the dentist.  for the first half hour, he sat in his office with me and explain one on one his dental philosophy and allowed me to ask questions.  he was unhurried and took time to listen to me and ask questions.  he showed me a couple power point presentations with pictures and research articles backing up what he was saying.  after that he did an extensive exam of my mouth including looking at each tooth and my gums and analyzing my bite and jaw movements, as well as taking a sample of my mouth bacteria and looking at it under a slide (yuck!).

my second appointment was a follow-up from the first: he gathered all the data from the exam and put it together to help me understand the strengths and weaknesses of my dental system and proposed treatment options for some different issues with my teeth.  this was a shorter appointment, about 20 minutes or so, but similar to the first in that he explained things thoroughly, even giving me the risks and benefits of different treatment plans, allowing plenty of time for me to ask questions and learn.

my third appointment was with the dental hygienist.  the first half of the appointment she did an assessment of my dental hygiene, looking more closely at my gums and culturing a sample of my mouth bacteria to see what specific bacteria i have, taking a pH test of my saliva and watching how i bush and floss (and then correcting my technique), as well as showing me how to use a gum stimulator (i have unhealthy gums and will need to start using this regularly).  the second half of my appointment was a cleaning (this is all you get from most "normal" dental appointments is a cleaning).  the hygienist was also very friendly, thoroughly explaining everything that she was doing.  when she polished my teeth she warned me that the polish was a bit salty.  i asked some more questions and found that the polish they use is homemade with sea salt and oregano essential oil (this made me very happy)!  since my gums are not very healthy right now, she wants me back for a cleaning in 4 months (another reason they don't take insurance- most companies will only pay for 2 visits per year even if your teeth need extra help like mine do) but she hopes that if i use the new teeth cleaning techniques she taught me my gums will improve significantly and that i will get onto a normal 6 month routine for cleanings.

the difference and my thoughts

in some ways, our new dentist is like most normal dentists... x rays, teeth cleaning, free tooth brush samples.  but in many ways this practice is different, and it stems from a fundamentally different view of dentistry.

the foundation of dr. mcbride's practice is to educate patients so that they can make the best dental choices for themselves.  remember how i mentioned that he took a half hour to explain his dental philosophy to me the first time i met with him?  no typical dentist does this.  this was to lay the foundation for me to understand what i need to know about my mouth and how it relates to my over all health so that i can make the best decisions for myself.  and when the dental hygienist watched me brush and floss my teeth and showed me better techniques for doing these things it took time (time that an insurance company wouldn't pay for) but my better knowledge about how to care for my teeth is surely going to pay off in the long run.  in fact, i have noticed that my teeth get significantly cleaner using the brushing method that i learned at my last visit.

i also appreciate their emphasis on natural methods and products in dentistry.  of course they use things like x rays and fillings when needed to care for patients, but even knowing that they use homemade polish to avoid yucky chemicals for their patients... that shows me that not only do they care, but they come from a similar health philosophy as me.

furthermore, unlike most conventional dentists, dr. mcbride doesn't just look at the symptoms (cavities, gum loss, inflammation, etc) but he looks for the deeper causes of these things, and looks to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.

is it worth it?

we are paying more for this type of dentistry than if we decided to pay for a PPO or HMO dental plan.  but so far i am VERY pleased and i think we are saving money in the long run by going for the best care now, especially since dr. mcbride is so big on educating his patients, helping us to care for ourselves well.

have you ever tried a holistic dentist?  what are your experiences with dentists in the past?

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