One of the worst mistakes ever made in healthcare was the separation of “medicine” and “dentistry”.
Fortunately, patients — and dentists — are changing this paradigm.
The practice of functional dentistry, which honors the mouth-body connection and takes a root cause approach to dental health, is in high demand.
As people learn the integral connection between their oral and overall health, they are seeking an answer they can’t find in the average dental office.
Dentists who take a functional approach to patient care are the cutting edge of modern dental care.
To succeed in dental practice, functional dentistry will soon become not just a “niche” specialty, but a necessity.
I see it every day — my team receives hundreds of emails, DMs, and comments each week from patients desperately seeking a functional dentist in their area.
Dentistry is Not Separate from Medicine
Our insurance plans, regulations, and education may be strictly separated, but dentists and medical doctors are treating interconnected parts of the same person.
The body simply has no “closed systems” that can be addressed without considering the rest of the body.
Most significantly: A functional approach to health is likely to improve overall health, while an unhealthy lifestyle will most certainly lead to disease throughout the body over time.
So, what are some of the most common examples of the entanglement of oral and overall health?
Diet & Lifestyle Habits
The most obvious way that oral and overall health are connected is the way they are impacted by your diet and lifestyle.
The same dietary patterns associated with higher rates of chronic disease are also a root cause of cavities.
Smoking is not just a leading cause of oral cancer, but also cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, birth defects, and diabetes.
A sedentary lifestyle won’t just lead to an increased risk of heart disease and obesity; it’s also bad for your oral health.
Your diet and lifestyle impact absolutely every part of your health, from the brain to the toes.
Periodontal Disease & Chronic Disease
Periodontal disease (gum disease or periodontitis) is one of the most common dental diseases, impacting almost half of all adults in the US and over 70% of adults over the age of 65.
Some functional dentists have suggested that periodontal disease is an autoimmune disorder.
Similar to other autoimmune issues, the body’s immune response (in the form of inflammation) actually hurts the body and damages healthy cells. This may happen specifically as an autoimmune response to collagen.
Autoimmune responses and chronic inflammation aren’t limited to the gums. If you develop periodontitis, your risk of many other chronic diseases skyrocket.
Periodontitis is associated with the following chronic diseases:
2019 research suggests that gum disease may be a causative factor of Alzheimer’s.
Learn More: Can gingivitis cause Alzheimer’s disease?
The Oral Microbiome
The human microbiome is home to up to 100 trillion microbes, many of these found in the gut.
Few people are unaware of how very important the microbiome is, particularly for a healthy immune system.
But the oral microbiome, the second most diverse of the body’s biomes and containing about 45% of the same bacteria strains as the gut, is a system many people have never even heard of.
A dysbiosis (imbalance) of the bacteria in the oral microbiome is associated with conditions such as:
Sleep & Airway Health
During sleep, the body repairs and restores itself.
However, poor airway position and sleep-disordered breathing (including sleep apnea) can rob you of the benefits of restful sleep.
These same problems may also lead to worsened dental health by causing dry mouth and/or weakening your immune system.
Your dentist can spot telltale signs of sleep and airway problems up to a decade before your medical doctor can. The most well-known of these is bruxism (teeth grinding).
Without a comprehensive healthcare team of both functionally-minded doctors and dentists, those crucial years can be lost.
Consequences of poor sleep over time range from obesity to the risk of heart disease or diabetes, to depression.
How Functional Dentistry Offers Hope
Functional dentistry takes an approach to oral health that does not simply focus on getting rid of symptoms, like cavities or gum disease but gets to the root cause of your problems.
Some of these root causes may be somewhat obvious — like a diet full of candy. Others, though, aren’t obvious to the general observer.
Root causes of oral disease that a functional dentist may address with you include:
- Mouth breathing
- Antibacterial mouthwash and toothpaste
- Chronic inflammation
- Microbiome dysbiosis (of the gut and oral microbiome)
- Improper facial development
- Acidic pH levels in the mouth
- Side effects of pharmaceutical medications
- A diet devoid of nutrient-dense foods and rich in empty carbohydrates and processed foods
- nutritional deficiencies
- Chronic stress
- Sleep apnea or other sleep disorders
After 33+ years of dental practice, I can attest to the fact that when patients address these root causes, their symptoms abate and their overall health improves.
Benefits of Seeing a Functional Dentist
As you can see, a functional dentist should be an integral part of your healthcare team. But this form of dental practice is also beneficial in other ways.
As a functional dentist, time spent with my patients is vitally important to their health success. We talk about what they eat, how their lifestyle has changed, the quality of their sleep, and more.
A traditional dentist might spend a few moments beside your chair, while a functional dentist spends truly quality time with each patient.
Plus, most functional dentists see a small fraction of the patients that a traditional dentist sees. You are at a far lower risk of being just another patient ID number to your healthcare provider.
A Lifetime of Savings
The number one complaint people have about functionally-minded dentists — and all dentists, really — is the cost.
Many functional dentists don’t accept dental insurance and only perform services of a higher, more expensive quality than a traditional dentist.
However, this is a shortsighted concern.
By working with a functional dentist to improve your oral and overall health by getting to the root cause of your problems, you may save untold thousands of dollars in future medical costs. Yes, it may cost more initially, but the benefits in the long-term are well worth it.
Quality of Life
Modern humans have extended our lifespans by decades beyond many of our ancient ancestors.
Sadly, this coincides with the rampant spread of chronic lifestyle diseases that impact an overwhelming number of people throughout the world. This leads to millions of sick, tired, miserable people… that live a few years longer.
But by addressing the root causes of your dental issues — which are likely behind some systemic issues as well — your quality of life can grow exponentially.
The Principles of Functional Dentistry
Each dentist in my Functional Dentist Locator agrees to a set of principles that define the way we work with our patients.
Functional Dentistry goes beyond treating the signs and symptoms of our patients by determining how and why illness occurs and restoring health by addressing the root cause of dental disease.
- Functional Dentistry aims to teach patients prevention strategies to help them avoid the need for future dental work.
- Functional Dentistry recognizes the importance of the oral microbiome in both dental and whole-body health, and as such, discourages the use of antimicrobial mouthwashes and toothpastes.
- Functional Dentistry recognizes the ability of enamel to remineralize on its own, and as such, educates patients on diet and nutrition strategies in order to maximize this natural remineralization process and avoid the most prevalent oral disease: caries and periodontal disease.
- Functional Dentistry works closely with colleagues in a variety of fields, including sleep medicine, myofunctional therapy, integrative specialties, and functional orthodontics, in order to restore dental health, because the mouth does not exist in a vacuum and partnership with a patient’s multiple healthcare providers results in the best outcome.
- Functional Dentistry practices early intervention in pediatric patients because it recognizes the importance of craniofacial complex and its contribution to overall health.
- Functional Dentistry embraces the latest scientific research, as we continue to better understand the mouth-body connection and the relationships between dental disease and diseases of the rest of the body. As “forever students” of the latest discoveries in the mouth-body connection, we are able to provide the best root-cause care for our patients.
- Functional Dentistry works to understand the impact of inflammation in the mouth and its impacts on inflammation throughout the rest of the body.
- Functional dentistry is not just removing our patients’ symptoms; it’s enabling our patients to thrive.
Are you ready for the future?
As you can see, a root cause approach is the most cutting-edge, patient-first approach to dental health available to us today.
Don’t stay sick and tired. Don’t be left behind. Find a functional dentist and start living in the future, now.
Are you a patient seeking a trustworthy functional dentist in your area? Search my Functional Dentist Locator today.
Are you a functional dentist who wants to connect with patients who want your root cause approach to treatment? Join the Functional Dentist Locator and sign up for my free newsletter for dental professionals.
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