How good is your dentist? Drill and fill dentists are on every corner, but are they really the kind of dentist you want helping you optimize your oral health? From the oral microbiome and oral-systemic health, to sleep dentistry, to amalgam fillings, fluoride, and hidden infections; is your dentist a real expert? If you’re like me, you want the best dentist on your team to help with your oral health and your overall health. After all, your mouth is a mirror of health or disease elsewhere in the body. And if you have a problem, like a root canal infection or gum disease, you want to know that your dentist is suggesting the most non-toxic, health-supporting solutions available– treatments that last. Consumers and practitioners can use the directories in this blog to find a holistic or biological dentist in your area. Keep reading if you want to know the differences between biological dentists, holistic dentists, and functional dentists, and how to choose the best one.
We are grateful to our sponsor, Biocidin Botanicals, for making this blog possible.
Terminology: A Sea of Different Holistic Dentists
There are a lot of different dentists out there who can help you find natural treatments for cavities, root canal alternatives, bleeding gums, and other oral health problems. Many of them think about the root cause of your oral health problems. They suggest more holistic solutions. They use healthier materials in their offices. I have found the resources for finding a good dentist to be fragmented and hard to figure out. To start, at least seven different names are floating around to describe these dentists! It can be a little overwhelming to figure out the differences and find a good dentist in your area. That’s why I wrote this blog.
- Biological dentist
- Holistic dentist
- Oral-systemic dentist
- Integrative dentist
- Functional dentist
- Sleep dentist
- Natural dentist
These dentists have the same formal education as regular dentists. They can do all of the same procedures in their offices. However, they have gone through additional training in specific areas such as biological dentistry, holistic, oral-systemic, sleep dentistry, functional dentistry, and/or others to get a bigger picture of the mouth-body connection. They are up to date with the current evidence in these areas. They might prefer using certain non-toxic materials. They may tell you that the way you breathe has changed your mouth structure, which is contributing to your dental problems. Or they may have opinions about the best solution for a root canal infection, different than what a regular dentist would say. They are looking for root causes of your dental problems with the hope of giving you lasting solutions. They know that the mouth affects the whole body.
There is a lot of overlap between functional dentists, holistic dentists, natural dentists, biological dentists, sleep dentists, and oral-systemic dentists. But they are not the same. We will dig into the different kinds of dentists and their unique qualities, so keep reading.
For simplicity and clarity, I chose to use the most popular and time-tested dentist terms in this blog: biological dentist and holistic dentist. However, with these terms, I am referring to all good dentists who take a root cause, non-toxic, evidence-based approach, and who acknowledge the mouth-body connection (or the oral-systemic connection).
In September 2023, the sleep dentists, the biological dentists, and the oral-systemic dentists convened in a first time ever conference (AAOSH, IAOMT, and IABDM) in Orlando, Florida! This was a huge step to collaborate and share expertise across these dental certifications. It shows that these different training programs can combine their efforts, raising dentists’ knowledge of root causes across the board to a higher level. And maybe one day they will all unite under one single name. 😊
Who Could Benefit from a Biological or Holistic Dentist?
- Anyone with a long history of dental problems
- Chronically ill patients
- Chemically sensitive people
- Chronic oral health conditions that don’t respond to the usual dental program
- Immune-suppressed patients
- People interested in optimum oral health and/or whole-body health
- People looking for natural and non-toxic dental alternatives
- Someone who noticed their health worsened after a dental implant, root canal, or other dental procedure
How to Find a Biological or Holistic Dentist Near You
Just because you see a dentist in one of these directories, doesn’t mean they are a great dentist, but it’s a good hint that they are going beyond the basic training they received at dental school. If I saw a dentist that was certified by more than one of these organizations, I would be more inclined to think of him/her/they as an expert.
United States Dentists
- Directory of biological dental professionals from the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology (IAOMT)
- Find a biological dentist through the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine (IABDM)
- Holistic dentists from the Holistic Dentist Association (HDA)
- Sleep dentist directory from the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM)
- Directory of oral-systemic dental practitioners by the American Academy of Oral-Systemic Health (AAOSH)
- OralDNA Labs’ find a provider. Look for clinicians with a diamond designation. This means they use oral testing frequently and understand the oral-systemic connection.
- Wellness dentists trained in oral-systemic health by Dr. Doug Thompson, DDS
- Functional dentist directory from Dr. Mark Burhenne, DDS.
What Qualifications to Look for in a Biological Dentist or a Holistic Dentist
Location. This is critical. See the directories above for a good dentist in your area unless you only need a consultation via teledentistry.
Experience. A dentist who has been practicing holistic or biological dentistry for more than 10 years. They have a good level of post-graduation hands-on experience. They have seen tough cases and they have tricks up their sleeve to help you.
Non-toxic dental materials. Do they use mercury fillings in their practice? Do they use special procedures to remove mercury fillings? Are they concerned about biocompatible implant materials? Just because a dentist has been trained to remove mercury fillings carefully doesn’t mean they are truly a biological dentist.
Continuing education certifications from biological dentist programs such as IAOMT and IABDM, holistic dental training from the HDA, further education in dental sleep medicine (AADSM), and/or oral-systemic health (AAOSH). Look for special training in the BaleDoneen program or the ReCODE program by Dale Bredesen. Functional dentistry training by Mark Burhenne. Are they certified? Are they a fellow? These are different designations based on the amount of training they have. How many conferences have they attended? The directories above will distinguish the level of experience and training a dentist has, if available. These are just a few examples that point to a passionate and educated dentist who stays current on the new research.
Oral microbiome testing. A dentist who uses oral microbiome testing regularly with his/her patients and says so on the website. I prefer if they measure and monitor if treatments are working with objective measurements, such as testing.
Integrated teamwork. A dentist that works with an integrative team of other health professionals is a huge bonus! Some have myofunctional therapists in their offices (someone who works with the muscles in the face and mouth). Some biological dentists have a network of practitioners they work with, including medical doctors, osteopathic doctors, chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, nutritionists, ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialists, allergists, and cranial sacral therapists.
Techniques and instrumentation. Biological and holistic dentists are more likely to use lasers and ozone therapy in their offices. They promote 3-dimiensional dental cone beam scans (CBCT scans, or cone-beam computed tomography), a superior way to detect hidden problems in the mouth. Biological dentists and holistic dentists are not big fans of root canals, do tooth extractions differently, and use non-toxic materials for fillings.
The Different Types of Dentists
What is a Traditional Dentist?
Let’s start with what we all know best- a conventional dentist. A dentist takes care of your teeth and mouth. They help prevent and fix dental problems to keep your smile beautiful and pain-free. I think of a conventional dentist as a construction worker and architect, working exclusively with the gums and teeth.
Dentists go to dental school and earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. The main difference between these degrees is how they are named. The education and training for both degrees are very similar and they do the same kinds of dental work. Dentists do checkups and cleanings, x-rays, fill cavities, extract teeth, cover damaged teeth with dental crowns. They may use braces to align teeth, create dentures, place dental implants. Some dentists perform root canals.
Some dentists go on to specialize in specific areas, like orthodontics (braces), oral surgery, endodontics (working inside of the tooth like with root canals) or pediatric dentistry. To become specialists, they often need extra education and training after dental school.
Conditions that Could Benefit from a Biological/Holistic/Sleep/Oral-Systemic/Functional Dentist
- Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
- Bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic mouth or facial pain
- Chronic unexplained systemic illnesses like fatigue, autoimmune diseases, chemical sensitivity, and/or disability
- Ear, nose, or throat symptoms
- Gum disease
- Jaw pain or misalignment
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Mercury amalgams
- Mouth infection
- Oral health problems that don’t respond to usual dental treatments
- Recurrent tooth decay
- Root canal infections
- Tooth extractions
- Tooth infections
What is a Biological Dentist?
All dentists start out with the same foundational training from dental school. However biological dentists use a more biocompatible or “biological” approach to oral health than regular dentists. They seek the safest, least toxic, and least damaging methods for dental care. They don’t use mercury or fluoride. They are very careful about metal implants, believing that metals in the mouth must be specifically tailored to, or biocompatible with, the patient. They believe the mouth is connected to the whole body and they treat the mouth accordingly.
There are two main organizations of biological dentists and allied dental professionals: the IAOMT and IABDM. I listed their directories earlier in this blog to help find a biological dentist. Based on their professional website, IAOMT focus on the risks of mercury fillings, fluoride, root canals, and jaw osteonecrosis (jaw bone decay). They are mindful of the oral-systemic connection. Founded in 1984, they have developed a Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique (SMART). They have a long history backing them up. They focus on research and education.
Likewise, IABDM promotes mercury-safe dentistry and biocompatible dental materials. They are also alert to jaw bone decay and how to treat it. IABDM appears to be more holistic, with dentists understanding and/or incorporating more medical therapies, bodywork treatments, heavy metal chelation, and natural therapies. They encourage the use of specific protocols for root canals and mercury amalgam removal. They seek an integrated approach to the health of body, mind, and spirit.
What’s the difference between a biological dentist and a regular dentist?
A biological dentist and a regular dentist both take care of your teeth, but a regular dentist focuses mainly on fixing problems with your teeth and gums. They use various materials, including some that might have chemicals, to fix cavities, restore teeth, and manage oral health.
On the other hand, a biological dentist prefers to use materials that are considered safer and more natural. They may avoid certain substances that could be harmful and choose options that are better for your body. While a regular dentist knows that the mouth plays a critical part in overall health, s/he may not incorporate it into patient education, dental protocols, or treatments.
What is a Holistic Dentist?
A holistic dentist is a type of dentist who considers the overall health of a person, not just their teeth. They focus on how oral health is connected to the rest of the body. Holistic dentists consider the mind, body, and spirit when caring for their patients’ oral health. The Holistic Dental Association has a long history, going back to 1978. They make the patient central to the dental care experience and put them in the driver’s seat to make informed decisions. Holistic dentists value information and training beyond the standard dental school courses. Examples are: ceramic implants, hormonal balance, traditional Chinese medicine for dentistry, healthy longevity, and nitric oxide. They collaborate with other disciplines to promote optimum whole-body healthcare. In summary, a holistic dentist improves a person’s overall health with dentistry, valuing the patient-dentist relationship, education, and informed consent. They have directories for national and international dentists, which you can find at the beginning of this blog.
What is a Natural Dentist?
A natural dentist, much like the others mentioned here, sees your mouth and your body as a whole. This type of dentist may overlap significantly and even mean the same thing as holistic dentist, biological dentist or an alternative dentist. Natural dentists receive the same standard dental training and encourage a dental hygiene regimen of flossing and brushing. They may also offer nutrition education, herbal medicine, homeopathy, electroacupuncture, and even spiritual healing. They use nutritional therapies and herbs instead of antibiotic mouthwash and fluoride toothpaste, for example. They tend to avoid dental materials that are not totally safe, such as fluoride and mercury fillings.
What is an Oral-Systemic Dentist?
An oral-systemic dentist is a type of dentist who recognizes that the mouth is a vital player in overall health. They focus on the well-documented connections between gum disease and heart disease, for example. They acknowledge that problems elsewhere in the body, such as mouth breathing and sleep apnea can lead to headaches, dental caries, or oral cancer. Oral-systemic dentists promote interdisciplinary collaboration with medical practitioners for better patient whole-body health. The American Academy for Oral & Systemic Health (AAOSH) leads the way in this area since 2010, empowering and educating dental and medical professionals on the oral-systemic connection. These practitioners might be more likely to be called integrative dentists, as they integrate both alternative dental practices and standard dental training. They collaborate with other medical professionals.
What is a Sleep Dentist?
Sometimes referred to as a “sleep apnea dentist,” these dentists improve a patient’s quality of life by promoting easier and clearer breathing. They do advanced training in dental sleep medicine to help people who have breathing problems during sleep. They focus on conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, where a person may temporarily stop breathing while sleeping. They also pinpoint snoring as a warning sign of future breathing problems and treat it. A sleep dentist can create custom oral appliances (little devices that fit in the mouth for a healthier jaw position), to help open up a person’s airway during sleep.
Sleep dentists acknowledge that simply having restricted airways can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and depression. In this way, dentists treat the airways, normalize breathing and sleep, and improve oral-systemic health. Established in 1991, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine trains dentists and promotes the value of dental sleep medicine. Their directory is found early in this blog.
What is a Functional Dentist?
Functional dentistry might just wrap up all of these different dentists under one umbrella. Functional dentistry borrows from the term “functional medicine,” which is a medical approach that treats the root causes of disease, not the symptoms. Functional medicine aims to restore proper function to biological tissues, which often requires correcting underlying causes. Functional dentists look for the root causes of dental problems. They want to prevent and reverse disease, not just fix broken teeth.
Dr. Mark Burhenne goes on a deep dive about functional dentistry. Dietary recommendations, sleep dentistry, and prevention are key. He gives excellent examples of how a regular dentist versus a functional dentist might respond to the same dental problem. Dr. Mary Ellen Chalmers talks about her functional approach to dentistry. You can find Dr. Burhenne’s functional dentist directory above.
The very best whole-body healthcare scenario is to have a biological or holistic dentist AND an integrative and functional medicine practitioner. See my blog on how to find an integrative and functional medicine doctor.
What is an Integrative Dentist?
The best definition I found of integrative dentistry was this one:
“Integrative dentistry is a medical approach to dentistry that considers the effects dental treatments, dental materials, and dental infections have on the entire body. It is a comprehensive approach that combines the art and science of dentistry with neuromuscular, biological, physiologic, holistic medical principles, and natural therapies.”
These dentists aim to treat dental issues while considering the whole person, not just focusing on teeth and gums. They may use natural and non-toxic materials and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care.
Let’s Give a Shout Out to Our Biological or Holistic Dental Hygienists
Let’s face it. They are pivotal in keeping our teeth clean and teaching us why. Conventional dental hygienists clean teeth, take X-rays, and teach people how to take care of their teeth. They usually have an associate degree. I love my dental hygienist. She’s full of information and was a major source of research when writing my book, Heal Your Oral Microbiome.
Just like dentists, not all dental hygienists are created equal. You can find biological dental hygienists who have accreditation. You can find holistic dental hygienists or dental hygienists who work in sleep dentistry. These dental professionals pack a punch. They play a vital role on the dental care team. When you find a biological dentist or holistic dentist in your area, chances are the dental hygienists in their office will also be savvy to the root causes of your oral health problems and non-toxic solutions.
Mercury amalgams, or dental fillings, that contain mercury are commonly used in dentistry and have been for centuries. Thanks to the efforts of the mercury-safe dentists mentioned earlier, it is phasing out. While still a controversial topic, biological dentists and clinicians practicing integrative and functional medicine warn of mercury causing illness in the mouth and elsewhere in the body. In the mouth, mercury can cause soreness, inflammation, and/or gingivitis. Mercury toxicity symptoms elsewhere primarily affect the brain including the infamous “mad hatter syndrome,” insomnia, fatigue, and poor short-term memory, as well as tremors, gut and kidney disturbances, and a suppressed immune system.1 If you think mercury or another metal implant is affecting your oral health, find a good biological dentist to work with using the links above.
In one of my biology classes in college, we were told matter-of-factly that adding fluoride to our water system was one of the greatest public health victories of all time and had dramatically reduced the incidence of cavities. Indeed, dentists use fluoride treatments to strengthen and rebuild teeth. Calcium, found in the tooth’s hard hydroxyapatite material, can be swapped out for fluorine, which makes teeth more durable and less susceptible to cavities.2
It was only when I started my career in integrative and functional medicine, did I learn that not everyone agreed with my biology professor. Groups of dentists and physicians oppose water fluoridation because of its health risks. In population studies and animal studies, fluoride exposure seems to harm brain development.3 In 2019, a study came out suggesting that fluoride could be neurotoxic to unborn babies. The more fluoride that pregnant women were exposed to, the more likely their future children were to have ADHD, even years later.4 Between fluoride in the water, in toothpaste, in food, pharmaceuticals, and other sources, we may be getting much more fluoride than we need.5 In fact, too much fluoride causes fluorosis, a harmless discoloration or surface pitting on teeth, which has been reported in 41% of US teenagers.3 To fluoridate or not is a hotly debated topic so you will want to do further reading and talk to your biological or holistic dentist about fluoride, oral health, and overall health. At the minimum, be careful about fluoride exposure during pregnancy and in children.
Achieve Better Oral and Overall Health With a Dentist Who Addresses the Root Causes
If you want the best dentist for your oral and overall wellness, then find a biological or holistic dentist in your area using the resources in this blog. Conventional dentists seek to repair damage in the mouth, such as fixing broken teeth or tooth infections, but they fail to go deeper. They don’t have tools to address the mouth as an integral part of whole-body health. Problems in the mouth can be traced back to toxic dental materials, airway problems, and hidden infections. On the flip side, problems in the mouth can cause disease in far-off sites like the heart, joints, and brain. A collection of dental training programs has appeared since the 1970s, helping dentists develop more natural, safe, evidence-based dental solutions for whole-body health. Despite their differences, they all focus on finding the root causes and addressing them for lasting solutions. If you are suffering with chronic tooth decay, bleeding gums, mouth sores, pain, numbness, or even unexplained chronic illnesses, you need a biological or holistic dental expert on your team.
Many thanks to Barbara Tritz, RDH, BS, MSB, HIAOMT, and Ariana Ebrahimian, DDS for their help with my research on this blog.
Biocidin Botanicals® is a leader in botanical supplements and a pioneer in the arena of microbiome health. Its flagship broad-spectrum botanical blend Biocidin® was formulated in 1989 in response to challenging health conditions related to microbial imbalances. More than 30 years later, the company offers a curated line of targeted support products to boost patient health. Healthcare practitioners have utilized these clinically effective, evidence-based products for over three decades to help thousands of patients achieve overall GI and gut health. Biocidin Botanicals® will continue to lead the way in functional and integrative medicine through its plant-powered products. For more information, check them out on Instagram or LinkedIn.
- Lord RS, Bralley JA, eds. Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine. 2nd ed. Metametrix Institute; 2008.
- Abou Neel EA, Aljabo A, Strange A, et al. Demineralization-remineralization dynamics in teeth and bone. Int J Nanomedicine. 2016;11:4743-4763. doi:10.2147/IJN.S107624
- Malin AJ, Till C. Exposure to fluoridated water and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States: an ecological association. Environ Health. Feb 27 2015;14:17. doi:10.1186/s12940-015-0003-1
- Bashash M, Marchand M, Hu H, et al. Prenatal fluoride exposure and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children at 6-12years of age in Mexico City. Environment international. Dec 2018;121(Pt 1):658-666. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2018.09.017
- Malin AJ, Riddell J, McCague H, Till C. Fluoride exposure and thyroid function among adults living in Canada: Effect modification by iodine status. Environment international. Dec 2018;121(Pt 1):667-674. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2018.09.026
Cass Nelson-Dooley, MS, is a researcher, author, educator, and laboratory consultant. She studied medicinal plants in the rain forests of Panama as a Fulbright Scholar and then launched a career in science and natural medicine. Early on, she studied ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, and drug discovery at the University of Georgia and AptoTec, Inc. She joined innovators at Metametrix Clinical Laboratory as a medical education consultant helping clinicians use integrative and functional laboratory results in clinical practice. She owns Health First Consulting, LLC, a medical communications company with the mission to improve human health using the written word. Ms. Nelson-Dooley is an oral microbiome expert and author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome. She was a contributing author in Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine and Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine. She has published case studies, book chapters, and journal articles about the oral microbiome, natural medicine, nutrition, laboratory testing, obesity, and osteoporosis.