Have you ever wondered what the differences are between a holistic dentist and a biological dentist?

What about functional dentistry? What’s that all about?

Being engage in the study of holistic oral health  for the past 25 years, we thought you may enjoy and benefit from hearing our ideas around the differences between several ‘alternative’ dental styles.

Part of the confusion around this subject is there is no regulation on what words a dental office can use to market their services to the world.

Unfortunately, this means that a dental office can claim to be ‘holistic’ just by choosing to market themselves in this way. (Yes, this ‘greenwashing’ occurs more than we’d prefer.)

You see, while there are organizations with certification programs for dentists looking to learn more about the whole body aspects to dentistry, they aren’t universally recognized.

So that means it’s up to us, the public, once again, to increase our knowledge-base on this subject. Only then can we ask (demand) the industry to step up to the task of providing us the services we want from our dental team to help us optimally care for the oral health of our family.

In this article, let’s set a baseline of definitions of the various ‘styles’ of dental offices, ranging from ‘regular’ conventional dentists, through mercury safe dentists, all the way to holistic dentists. Let’s also discuss some questions you can ask your dental office to make sure they are well informed and not just greenwashing their practice.

The pyramid of dental training

If you imagine the shape of a pyramid, this will provide us a good image to explore the various levels of education a dentist can take themselves through on their journey to whole body dentistry.

While not a perfect model, the pyramid image does help us see how a dentist has to have one level of understanding in place to reach a new level.


DDS/DMS – The foundational training

At the base of the pyramid, all dentists need to be trained as, well, dentists, right? The DDS (doctor of dental surgery) and DMD (doctor of medicine in dentistry) are different degrees that are essentially the same thing. Some dental schools issue DDS and others DMD, but the curriculums of the dental schools are essentially the same.

This degree provides that the dentist be trained as a doctor of the mouth (and jaw). With this degree, dentists can diagnose and treat dental diseases (like tooth decay, gum disease, etc) or anything else going on in the mouth.

The obvious problem is the mouth is connected to the rest of the body and it’s an error thought that we can treat one part of the body separate from another.

This ‘over-compartmentalization’ of the body is a very, very common mistake we make in the modern world. And when we add any training in medicine/dentistry, it’s even stronger. This over-compartmentalized thinking is foundational in the western medical/dental paradigm.

Mercury free dentistry

The next level up the pyramid is the dentist who realizes that there’s more to caring for the oral health of their patients than they were taught in school. They probably got wind of the typhoon of literature showing how toxic mercury is.

As a base, they don’t use mercury amalgam fillings in their practice.

Be warned, there are levels even within this space of ‘mercury safe’ dentists. If you want a deeper dive on these details, download our FREE ebook, the OraWellness Guide to Safe Dentistry here.

Mercury safe dentistry

The next level is a mercury free dentist who chooses to get trained by a group like IAOMT or New Directions Dentistry to learn specific protocols how to safely remove mercury fillings and use only composite resin or ceramic filling materials in their practice.

This dentist will take extra precautions to protect the patient and any staff during an amalgam removal. Here’s a good read for learning about the steps to safely remove mercury fillings.

Mercury safe dentists will also do their part to help remove mercury exposure from our environment. They will have ‘amalgam separators’, devices at the dental office that trap mercury from being washed into our wastewater systems, properly installed at their practice. (It’s a sad, unknown fact that 50% of mercury toxicity on the earth is from dental offices not using amalgam separators).

One friend, Dr Paul Rubin, is a great example of a super qualified mercury safe dentist.  In fact, he is one partner in New Directions Dentistry, an educational company that teaches other dentists how to be mercury safe.


Functional dentistry

Drawing from the core concepts of functional medicine, the functional dentist is evidence based and actively looking for the ‘root cause’ of any health imbalance.

With functional dentistry, the dentist explores the question, “What other systems are directly impacted or related to the mouth?”

Within the field of functional dentistry, we see dentists who understand, for example, the relationship between bruxism (grinding), receding gums, and undiagnosed sleep apnea.  Here’s a good expert interview that explores the bruxism/receding gums/sleep apnea connection.

Another related branch within functional dentistry is how the development of the dental arch in childhood impacts our facial structure, ability to breathe fully, even our spinal health.  Here’s a good expert interview that explores functional dentistry.  Also, here’s a book from Dr Lin, the Dental Diet.

So, a functional dentist will embrace more fringe dental procedures like palate expansion and helping fit their patients with specially designed mouth guards which help maintain an open airway during sleep.

They are also going to be keenly aware of the risks of root canals and cavitations in undermining the long term health of the individual.

At its core, functional dentistry also recognizes the role that diet plays in the development of the dental arch in children. They are also going to be aware of the micro biomes of the body and the mouth/body connection. As such, they will tend to understand that our job is to balance our oral flora and they will steer away from more toxic processes in dentistry.

A great example of a functional dentist (or periodontist in this case) is our friend Dr Al Danenberg. Dr Al is a dentist who specializes in the treatment of gum disease AND is a certified functional medicine practitioner and a primal health coach and is very aware of the role that diet plays in the creation or destruction of our health (oral and whole body).  Here’s a super lively interview we did with Dr Al on the role that nutrition plays in stopping and reversing gum disease.  By the way, Dr Al wrote a great book you can get on amazon here.

It’s also around here on the spectrum of dental practices where you’ll see a dental office joining arms with other health practitioners. A common alliance is a dental office and a naturopath office. In this way, the naturopathic physician can offer adjunct therapies like IV vitamin C and blood draws for functional testing.

We strongly applaud this team oriented approach in medicine. In this way, each specialist can be the expert in their field and work together, thus helping to heal the common over-compartmentalization we spoke of earlier.

Biological dentistry

With biological dentistry we reach one of the ‘big titles’ in the alternative dental world.

Again, while there’s no officially recognized difference between a biological dentist and a holistic dentist, we’d like to offer some context to help make distinctions between these titles.

A biological dentist understands the toxic nature of dentistry. Not only are they ‘mercury safe’, they also suggest dental material compatibility testing to assist each patient to find what dental materials are less irritating to their unique system.  Two companies that perform these dental material biocompatibility tests are:  BioComp Labs and Clifford Consulting.

They probably work with a team of other health experts like the functional dentist.

The biological dentist most likely uses ozone gas in their day to day practice. Like our friend, Dr Julian Holmes (the dentist who literally wrote the book on the use of ozone in dentistry) said, he can’t practice dentistry without his ozone tools. Once a dentist truly understands the superior cleansing capability ozone gas provides, they will see applications in nearly every procedure they perform.

Some helpful resources to find biological dentists are:

IAOMT (the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology) has a great ‘find a dentist’ database where you can choose which qualities you want in the dentist. For example, you can choose that the dentist uses ozone in their practice.

Also, the IABDM (International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine) is another helpful resource for finding qualified dentists who will tend to practice using a more biological approach to dentistry.

In recent years, the IAOMT and IABDM have combined their regional meetings which we think is a great opportunity for these two organizations to gain from ‘cross pollinating’.

For us, Dr Hal Huggins is the iconic biological dentist. After ringing the alarm on mercury toxicity decades before his peers (and being vilified for it), Dr Huggins eventually was stripped of his dental license because he was addressing whole body issues like MS and many other autoimmune diseases in his practice.

In fact, here’s a link to the interview we did with Dr Hal before he died. This expert interview, along with lots of other FREE expert interviews, are available for you to watch 24/7, always for free here at OraWellness. (Yes, this information is too important to make only available for a limited time.)

Holistic Dentistry

Now let’s help bring some distinctions between biological dentistry and holistic dentistry. Full disclosure here, these distinctions are ours. So, please don’t presume that if a dentist claims to be holistic that they are going to share these ideas.

The biological dentist is aware of the whole body nature of dentistry. Like our friend Dr Mark Breiner, author of ‘Whole Body Dentistry’, the biological dentist really takes the whole body into consideration.  For example, at Dr Breiner’s practice, patients can choose to have thermography images taken for early screening for breast cancer (which helps the team identify problem teeth that may be congesting and challenging the lymph thus contributing to the risk of breast cancer).

So, what’s the difference between a biological and holistic dentist?

The holistic dentist is going to include ‘softer’ aspects of our being. Drawing from older medical practices that were holistically oriented like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the holistic dentist isn’t only treating a body.

They are treating a whole being that has emotional, mental, energetic as well as physical components.  They will integrate the knowledge that each of our teeth relates to specific internal organs and weave that knowledge into their practice.  (Incidentally, here’s a fascinating interactive chart where you can explore this relationship between various teeth and the organs they relate to.  BTW, you need flash to use this meridian tooth chart, so it won’t work on a phone.)

The holistic dentist will recognize, for example, that if we have poor associations with dentists in the past and bring that anxiety to our appointment with them, that we are going to experience more pain than if we were calmer.

So, the holistic dentist may have some specific essential oils or homeopathic remedies to help the whole being have a gentler experience.

Where the biological (and functional we think) dentist is viewing the patient ‘simply’ as a biological organism (thus the biological aspects), the holistic dentist puts more consideration on providing the best possible care for the whole person in front of them.

As an example of this, the HDA (Holistic Dental Association) has on their ‘about us/philosophy’ page that patients should receive “appropriate information to make informed choices that will enhance personal health and wellness while feeling loved, accepted, and understood.”

Wait! Is this a site about dentistry using the words feeling loved, accepted and understood???

Maybe holistic dentistry isn’t for everyone, but it feels really good to us to know that there are dentists who are consciously aware that we patients are complex beings whose ‘less obvious scientific’ sides (like our emotions) play a big role in our wellness.  Holistic dental offices look to help heal, to feel good, and apply their business as a force for good.

Perhaps our best example is from another professional friend, Dr Martha Cortes, who shared with us that she prays before working on a patient and asks to be shown and guided how she can best serve this person. That’s a holistic approach within the framework of a dental office.

We hope these distinctions help you navigate this crazy world of dentistry.  If you’d like another read on how to find a helpful dentist, check out our article titled, “Helpful resources to find a qualified dentist to assist you“.  You may also find benefit from reading our checklist for a dream dentist here.

Please share with us in the comments if you have any ideas you’d like to add to this discussion.


Helpful, Related Resources:

How to stop tooth decay and remineralize your teeth [Free resource guidebook]4 steps to stop gum disease from causing an autoimmune disease in your life [article]OraWellness guide to safe dentistry [Free resource guidebook]How to safely remove mercury fillings (without damaging your brain) [article]The connection between grinding, snoring, and feeling tired all day [[Free expert interview]]The role diet plays in the mouth/body connection [[Free expert interview]]How nutrition plays a foundational role in stopping and reversing gum disease [[Free expert interview]]Dentistry in the 21st century – Dr Hal Huggins [[Free expert interview]]Interactive meridian tooth chart [Free interactive discovery tool]Helpful resources for you to find a qualified dentist to assist you [article]7 components of a ‘dream dentist’ [article]

Network Resources:

International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology – IAOMT
New Directions Dentistry
Dr Paul Rubin
The Dental Diet on amazon
Dr Al Danenberg
Dr Al’s book ‘Crazy Good Living‘ on amazon
BioComp Labs
Clifford Consulting
Dr Julian Holmes
International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine – IABDM
Dr Mark Breiner
Dr Breiner’s book ‘Whole Body Dentistry’ on amazon
Holistic Dental Association
Dr Martha Cortes


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