- Trying aromatherapy to help you relax?
Taking echinacea to fight the cold? These approaches may also work for
you in a place you might not have considered: the dentist's chair.
- "We'd like to add practices that
can get us away from medical approaches such as Valium to calm our patients."
- Joseph Perno, New Jersey Dentist
- Organized Dentistry has yet to focus
attention on alternative medicine anywhere near as much as, say, the American
Medical Association, which recently devoted a full issue of its highly
regarded Journal to studies on holistic medicine as part of clinical practice.
But a growing number of dentists are currently testing and using various
alternative therapies in the mouth.
- A toothpaste, for example, made up of
echinacea, goldenseal, calendula, aloe, bloodroot and grapefruit seed extract,
was found in a three-month study to be as effective as a leading brand
of toothpaste in reducing plaque and staining. And a preliminary study
found that a mouthwash made up of the same herbs was more effective than
Listerine in fighting oral bacteria.
- This was all to the surprise of Warren
Scherer, a professor of restorative dentistry at the New York University
School of Dentistry in New York City, who has completed clinical studies
on the two products. They are sold as The Natural Dentist's Herbal Mouth
and Gum Therapy in natural food stores.
- Scherer and several other researchers
recently published their findings on the toothpaste and mouthwash in the
Journal of Clinical Dentistry. "We were a bit surprised," says
Scherer. "Before the study, I couldn't even pronounce echinacea. This
may lead to more [dentists] learning about the benefits of herbs."
- Acupressure: This technique of applying
gentle pressure to various 'pressure points' on the body is used to relieve
jaw pain due to bite irregularities.
- Acupuncture: Very thin needles are gently
inserted into specific points of the body to stimulate the flow of Qi,
or natural healing energy. This may encourage relaxation and reduce pain
during and after dental procedures.
- Aromatherapy: Breathing in certain,
pleasant scents may encourage relaxation during dental procedures.
- Deep breathing: Taking in slow, deep
breaths is thought to help ease anxiety.
- Herbs: Echinacea, goldenseal and other
herbs may help ease pain, reduce inflammation or fight infection.
- Hypnosis: Inducing a sleep-like state
is to help combat anxiety and pain.
- Victor Zeines, a New York City dentist
who developed the herbal mouthwash and toothpaste, says he has been using
herbs and other alternative methods in his practice for years. "It's
not just a question of using alternative means on teeth, but looking at
the mouth as indicative of what's going on in the body," he says.
"In Chinese medicine, they have 280 diseases that can be seen by looking
at the tongue."
- And how you treat your whole body affects
your teeth, says Zeines. "A cavity doesn't just happen because you
don't brush your teeth. It happens because the mouth's acid base balance
is off," he says. "When the mouth is too acidic, the acid-loving
bacteria start breeding prolifically, and if at the same time the minerals
on your teeth are eroding away, cavities will develop. We do nutritional
counseling with patients so that they take in the minerals they need."
Zeines also uses aromatherapy in his office to relax his patients before
they undergo dental procedures.
- Interest Grows
- As with other areas of medicine, interest
in holistic practices for the mouth appears to be on the rise. The Holistic
Dental Association, based in Durango, Colo., says it has 150 members and
gets 100 calls a month for referrals to dentists who practice holistic
medicine. Mindful of the public's demand for alternative therapies, many
dentists are reluctant to simply knock these practices. "I'm not sure
holistic medicine will interact with dentistry but I see that both consumers
and dentists need more education," says NYU's Scherer. A spokesman
for the Academy of General Dentistry says that "although we do not
have a policy or position statement regarding alternative dentistry, the
academy does recognize and credit a variety of continuing education courses
that help the members stay up to date on the latest procedures and technology,
including those on alternative dentistry."
- And while dentistry may seem to be behind
other areas of medicine in terms of alternative therapies, in some ways
it may be light years ahead, says Joseph Perno, a dentist in Voorhees,
N.J., and president of the AGD. Conventional medicine embraces alternative
approaches most often to get patients to continue with a conventional regimen
and to reduce stress associated with pain, disease and treatment; dentists
have done that for centuries, Perno says.
- Anxiety Abounds
- "There are patients who would rather
go in for standard surgery than visit the dentist's office, and over the
years dentists have developed coping techniques for their patients, including
music during treatment and deep breathing," Perno says. "We'd
like to add practices that can get us away from medical approaches such
as Valium to calm our patients." Many dentists have learned acupuncture
and hypnosis to help patients through their pain and anxiety, says Shapira.
And at the AGD's last annual meeting, dentists attended a session to teach
them how to show patients to self-administer acupressure, a technique of
applying pressure to various 'pressure points' on the body, to relieve
the pain of temporomandibular disorders (known as TMD or TMJ). Pain occurs
when the joint where the jaw is connected to the head is out of alignment
or when the muscles surrounding the jaw malfunction due to physical injury
or stress behaviors, such as jaw clenching and tooth grinding.
- "Patients like acupressure because
they can administer the techniques themselves, wherever they are, whenever
they want. It gives them control over their pain," says Albert Forgione,
a Boston dentist who discovered the acupressure points associated with
the neck and jaw muscles. But there are some concerns with alternative
methods, herbs in particular. Shapira became concerned when a nurse from
his office passed out from a stimulant tea, which caused her heart to speed
and skip beats. He says herbs can interact with and enhance the effects
of drugs dentists use, such as epinephrine, a stimulant used to enhance
the effect of lidocaine, a local anesthetic. Shapira advises letting your
dentist know what herbs you are taking, though he concedes that dental
associations will have to do much more to give dentists information about
drug/herb interactions. He also recommends that patients avoid herbs when
they are having dental work done.