When we think of symptoms, we usually do so very subjectively. For symptoms make us feel bad not just physically, but mentally and spiritually, too, since our physical limitations may keep us from doing the things we want or need to do. Thus, we tend to see symptoms as things that must be stopped. And thus, conventional medicine provides all kinds of symptom-suppressing drugs and therapies. But since they fail to address root causes, illness gets pushed deeper into the body, creating more problems and more symptoms in the long run.
Suffice it to say, this is a very limited and limiting view of both sickness and health.
When we think about symptoms from a holistic, biological perspective, though, we see them as signs of a body trying to heal itself. For the body is a self-regulating system, always striving for homeostasis the condition of being the same: normal temperature, normal levels of constituents in the blood, and so on. So when, for instance, a foreign substance enters it pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes, say your body's defenses go to work to try to neutralize or remove the invaders. You may run a fever, as heat kills some pathogens. You may sneeze, cough, vomit or get diarrhea as your body attempts to excrete toxins. Your tissues may become red, swollen and tender as lymphocytes battle the foreign element.
Thus, what the holistic practitioner wants to do is not help a patient “manage” an illness by suppressing symptoms but work towards real cure by providing treatment that supports the body in its ability to heal itself.
Inflammation is one of the most common symptoms of all. It is a factor in a whole host of disease processes, from periodontal (gum) disease to cardiovascular disease (CVD, or “heart disease”), diabetes to stroke, arthritis to cancer. It also plays a role across the range of autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) and Crohn's disease, as well as conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). In all such cases, the inflammation is chronic: ongoing, lasting for years, often before other symptoms are experienced or full-blown illness sets in. The body adapts, and over time, the inflammation becomes destructive. This is in contrast to acute inflammation the kind that occurs, say, when you cut or burn yourself: an immediate and short term experience that encourages the healing process.
In dentistry, inflammation is most commonly associated with gum disease. Gingivitis and periodontitis have many causes, including genetic predisposition, diet, hygiene, diabetes and stress, and eventually result in “pockets” forming between the teeth and supporting tissues.
When the gums are healthy, this space is less than three millimeters deep. But as inflammation sets in, the gums become red and puffy, and even normal brushing may cause them to bleed. The pockets deepen, becoming ideal homes for the oral bacteria that thrive in such dark, moist places. And as the microbes colonize and multiply, they also generate acidic, metabolic waste that further pollutes the body's biological terrain (internal environment). This, of course, perpetuates the disease which, if left untreated, ultimately leads to tooth and bone loss.
Fortunately, excellent home hygiene combined with regular deep, professional cleanings can stave off, stop or reverse periodontal disease, though in some cases, more extensive treatments such as laser surgery and tissue grafts may be needed to deal with the damage already done.
Over the past decade or so, much research has been done on the relationships between periodontal and other inflammatory diseases, and there are a number of interesting links. Some of the best evidence shows a relation between gum and heart disease, where we see the same pathogenic microbes in both the mouths and hearts of CVD patients. We also know that diabetes raises the risk of periodontal disease, while other links have been found between gum disease and cancer. These connections are recognized by orthodox dental medicine, as well as holistic. Consequently, even conventional dental researchers now acknowledge that good oral health and hygiene may be preventive of at least some systemic, inflammatory diseases.
Toxic Materials and Other Dental Sources of Inflammation
There are other dental conditions that can trigger inflammatory immune responses that can range from mild swelling and soreness to full-blown illnesses, including autoimmune disorders such as MS and lupus, and “enigmatic” illnesses such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and MCS.
In the case of dental materials, the issue is often one of biocompatibility. If a dentist places a filling, crown, bridge or other restoration made of material that is toxic (e.g., dental amalgam) or that the patient is allergic to, the patient may develop symptoms. Their severity and likelihood of progressing to chronic, systemic illness depend, of course, on the material itself and the patient's degree of sensitivity. Much depends, as well, on how effectively the patient can excrete toxins, their ongoing exposure to environmental toxins, their total toxic body burden and healthfulness of lifestyle (e.g., diet, drug use, tobacco use, physical activity).
Yet another issue with metal restorations in particular is oral galvanism: the creation of electrical currents in the mouth when different metals are near each other, close enough to be reactive. The mutual presence of gold and mercury is especially potent. Symptoms of oral galvanism may not be felt by the patient, or manifest merely as a metallic taste in the mouth or general sensitivity. But over time, these electrical fields can create great disturbances in the body, leading eventually to illness or dysfunction.
One other big area of concern is infection, both local and focal. Local dental infections include things like abscesses, which may be noticeable by touch (e.g., you can feel the sore with your tongue), as well as pain, pus or bleeding in the area. Focal infection is when infection in one area of the body, such as the mouth, affects other areas of the body.
Dental foci commonly stem from root canal teeth or cavitations (literally, holes in the jawbone), both of which like periodontal pockets are great harbors for pathogenic microbes. Indeed, in these cases, the environment is even more suited to infection, for both root canal teeth and cavitations involve dead tissue. Little oxygen reaches these sites, which is great for anaerobic microbes organisms that thrive in the absence of oxygen. Their colonization furthers the decay of these tissues. However, because the sites are connected via the various circulatory systems, both microbes and their toxic waste products enter the body's general circulation. From there, they can wreak havoc elsewhere in the body. Indeed, this is a likely mechanism for the relationship between the systemic and oral diseases gum disease and heart disease, say, or cancer.
The obvious solution, then, is to remove the source of infection. If problematic cavitations or root canal teeth are present, they must be, respectively, cleaned or removed and replaced with nontoxic, biocompatible restorations in order to stop the continuing toxication of the body. Once the source is removed, much more progress may be made in treating the systemic aspects of the disease and returning the body to full health. If mercury or other toxic restorations are the issue, they should be safely removed and replaced for the same reason.
That said, if you have a chronic condition such as CVD, lupus or cancer, you can't just conclude that it's caused by your dental conditions. You don't just rush out and have thousands of dollars of dental work done immediately, and there are no instant cures. Thorough, comprehensive testing must always be done first to pinpoint the precise causes of any illness or to rule them out. Then treatment must follow in a sensible, logical and scientifically valid way in order to insure that it's done right and helps, not harms. Proper detox protocols must be followed, and often further therapeutic interventions by naturopaths, homeopaths or other holistic healers are needed for full treatment. The dental aspect is just that an aspect, albeit an important one. And it's rooted in what ties so much illness together: the inflammatory response, your body's attempt to heal.
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