One of the worst mistakes ever made in healthcare was the separation of “medicine” and “dentistry”.
Fortunately, patients — and dentists — are changing this paradigm.
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.
And just think about the prevalence of oral disease! These statistics say it all:
- Up to 50% of adults have periodontitis
- 90% of the population regularly experiences gingivitis (the first stage of gum disease)
- Cavities are the most common preventable disease in the world
- Oral pathogens are involved in almost every chronic disease
The mouth is the only place in the body that a biofilm exists by design. The mouth is a unique system that is integral to your health, yet it has been largely ignored by the medical community for years.
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.
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
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:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Respiratory infections
- Endocrine disorders
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.
A dysbiosis (imbalance) of the bacteria in the oral microbiome is associated with conditions such as:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Certain types of cancer
- H. pylori infection
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Atherosclerosis (which causes cardiovascular disease)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes (miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, etc.)
- PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
Sleep & Airway Health
During sleep, the body repairs and restores itself.
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.
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.
- Raju, P., George, R., Ramesh, S. V., Arvind, H., Baskaran, M., & Vijaya, L. (2006). Influence of tobacco use on cataract development. British journal of ophthalmology, 90(11), 1374-1377. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1857475/
- Hutchinson, D., Shepstone, L., Moots, R., Lear, J. T., & Lynch, M. P. (2001). Heavy cigarette smoking is strongly associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), particularly in patients without a family history of RA. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 60(3), 223-227. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1753588/
- Chang, S. A. (2012). Smoking and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Diabetes & metabolism journal, 36(6), 399-403. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530709/
- Sheiham, A., & Watt, R. G. (2000). The common risk factor approach: a rational basis for promoting oral health. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology: Commentary, 28(6), 399-406. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11106011/
- Hirsch, H. Z., Tarkowski, A., Miller, E. J., Gay, S., Koopman, W. J., & Mestecky, J. (1988). Autoimmunity to collagen in adult periodontal disease. Journal of Oral Pathology & Medicine, 17(9‐10), 456-459. Abstract: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0714.1988.tb01315.x
- Taylor, G. W., Manz, M. C., & Borgnakke, W. S. (2004). Diabetes, periodontal diseases, dental caries, and tooth loss: a review of the literature. Compendium of continuing education in dentistry (Jamesburg, NJ: 1995), 25(3), 179. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15641324/
- Bahekar, A. A., Singh, S., Saha, S., Molnar, J., & Arora, R. (2007). The prevalence and incidence of coronary heart disease is significantly increased in periodontitis: a meta-analysis. American heart journal, 154(5), 830-837. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17967586/
- Holmstrup, P., Damgaard, C., Olsen, I., Klinge, B., Flyvbjerg, A., Nielsen, C. H., & Hansen, P. R. (2017). Comorbidity of periodontal disease: two sides of the same coin? An introduction for the clinician. Journal of oral microbiology, 9(1), 1332710. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508374/
- Sperr, M., Kundi, M., Tursic, V., Bristela, M., Moritz, A., Andrukhov, O., … & Sperr, W. R. (2018). Prevalence of comorbidities in periodontitis patients compared with the general Austrian population. Journal of periodontology, 89(1), 19-27. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28844189/
- Dominy, S. S., Lynch, C., Ermini, F., Benedyk, M., Marczyk, A., Konradi, A., … & Holsinger, L. J. (2019). Porphyromonas gingivalis in Alzheimer’s disease brains: Evidence for disease causation and treatment with small-molecule inhibitors. Science advances, 5(1), eaau3333. Full text: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/1/eaau3333
- Ursell, L. K., Metcalf, J. L., Parfrey, L. W., & Knight, R. (2012). Defining the human microbiome. Nutrition reviews, 70(suppl_1), S38-S44. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/
- Cass Nelson-Dooley, M. S., & Olmstead, S. F. (2015). The Microbiome and Overall Health Part 5: The Oropharyngeal Microbiota’s Far-Reaching Role in Immunity, Gut Health, and Cardiovascular Disease. Full text: https://www.drkarafitzgerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2015-Oral-Microbiome-Nelson-Dooley-Olmstead.pdf
- Caballero, S., & Pamer, E. G. (2015). Microbiota-mediated inflammation and antimicrobial defense in the intestine. Annual review of immunology, 33, 227-256. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540477/
- Meurman, J. H. (2010). Oral microbiota and cancer. Journal of oral microbiology, 2(1), 5195. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3084564/
- Zou, Q. H., & Li, R. Q. (2011). Helicobacter pylori in the oral cavity and gastric mucosa: a meta‐analysis. Journal of oral pathology & medicine, 40(4), 317-324. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21294774/
- Zhang, X., Zhang, D., Jia, H., Feng, Q., Wang, D., Liang, D., … & Lan, Z. (2015). The oral and gut microbiomes are perturbed in rheumatoid arthritis and partly normalized after treatment. Nature medicine, 21(8), 895-905. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26214836/
- Slocum, C., Kramer, C., & Genco, C. A. (2016). Immune dysregulation mediated by the oral microbiome: potential link to chronic inflammation and atherosclerosis. Journal of internal medicine, 280(1), 114-128. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26791914/
- Casarin, R. C. V., Barbagallo, A., Meulman, T., Santos, V. R., Sallum, E. A., Nociti, F. H., … & Gonçalves, R. B. (2013). Subgingival biodiversity in subjects with uncontrolled type‐2 diabetes and chronic periodontitis. Journal of periodontal research, 48(1), 30-36. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22762355/
- Han, Y. W., Shen, T., Chung, P., Buhimschi, I. A., & Buhimschi, C. S. (2009). Uncultivated bacteria as etiologic agents of intra-amniotic inflammation leading to preterm birth. Journal of clinical microbiology, 47(1), 38-47. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2620857/
- Lindheim, L., Bashir, M., Münzker, J., Trummer, C., Zachhuber, V., Pieber, T. R., … & Obermayer-Pietsch, B. (2016). The salivary microbiome in polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) and its association with disease-related parameters: a pilot study. Frontiers in microbiology, 7, 1270. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4996828/
- Goodson, J. M., Groppo, D., Halem, S., & Carpino, E. (2009). Is obesity an oral bacterial disease?. Journal of dental research, 88(6), 519-523. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2744897/
- Cappuccio, F. P., Taggart, F. M., Kandala, N. B., Currie, A., Peile, E., Stranges, S., & Miller, M. A. (2008). Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults. Sleep, 31(5), 619-626. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2398753/
- Cappuccio, F. P., Cooper, D., D’Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2011). Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European heart journal, 32(12), 1484-1492. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21300732/
- Gottlieb, D. J., Punjabi, N. M., Newman, A. B., Resnick, H. E., Redline, S., Baldwin, C. M., & Nieto, F. J. (2005). Association of sleep time with diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance. Archives of internal medicine, 165(8), 863-867. Full text: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/486518
- Hayley, A. C., Williams, L. J., Venugopal, K., Kennedy, G. A., Berk, M., & Pasco, J. A. (2015). The relationships between insomnia, sleep apnoea and depression: findings from the American National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2008. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49(2), 156-170. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25128225/