Traditionally, sport dentistry has served to treat and prevent oral-facial athletic injuries and related diseases and manifestations. However, this injury/disease-focused treatment may be limited in its ability to allow the athlete to fully realize his or her healthy potential. The holistic sports dentist is concerned not only with injury prevention and treatment, but is also aware of the direct or indirect impact that routine dental materials and procedures have on the athlete’s mental and physical states.
The tooth/body connection
Holistic dentistry provides an integrative approach which takes into account many different considerations when determining a proper course of action. Holistic, or biological dentists, employ a health-focused philosophy which acknowledges and respects the oral-systemic, or tooth-body, connection. This relationship is significant in that injury and treatment of specific teeth, can, and do, have a direct impact on overall health and well-being. Proper diagnosis and corrective treatment is essential to both the short-term and long-term health of the teeth and the body. Additionally, the holistic sports dentist will consider and evaluate jawbone/bite imbalances, which can have an impact on the entire cranio-sacral/skeletal complex. Also considered are the potential toxic effects that some commonly-used dental materials can have on the athlete’s immune and musculo-skeletal systems. These include, but are not limited to, mercury exposure from “silver” amalgam fillings (which are actually 40-50 percent mercury), nickel-based metal alloys used in crown and bridges, excessive fluoride exposure, root-canal treated teeth, poorly-healed extraction sites (cavitations ), periodontal gum infections, and tooth cavities.
When injuries are severe enough and treatment plans include dental procedures like root canal therapy, posts and crowns, implants, bridges, or even tooth bonding, my extensive knowledge and experience in biocompatible biological dentistry can provide treatment options that maximize healing, recovery, function and esthetics. The goal here is to minimize the potential negative impact on the body’s immune system that may occur as a result of commonly-used dental materials and procedures. This is where the oral-systemic, tooth-body relationship comes in. Similar to acupuncture, in which life energy, called “chi,” travels throughout the body along pathways called “meridians,” holistic dentists acknowledge that each tooth in the mouth is located on a specific meridian corresponding to other areas in the body. Taking this into account, decisions regarding treatment and long-term management of dental injuries must be made with care, as the repercussions can be profound.
Holistic Health Alliance
Aside from traumatic injuries to teeth, other areas that sports dentists are concerned with include: Increased incidence of cavities due to consumption of acidic-high sugar sports drinks, smokeless tobacco, and signs and symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. Eating disorders are more common than one might think in female athletes, and erosion patterns on teeth caused by gastric acids often help in the differential diagnosis of eating disorders. Referral to the proper healthcare professional shall be provided.
I have formed an alliance with healthcare practitioners in the fields of alternative/integrative medicine, acupuncture, naturopathy, osteopathy-cranio-sacral medicine, physical therapy, orthopedic medicine, family medicine, and sports psychology. In many cases, athletes can benefit from this multi-disciplinary approach to their care.
Benefits for athletes
Properly diagnosing and correcting dental stressors to the body can provide for more predictable athletic gains, like increased physical strength, flexibility, speed and balance, improved hand-eye coordination and timing, more efficient oxygen-carrying capabilities (vO2 max ), decreased performance anxieties, and enhanced recovery from injury or surgery.
Preseason screenings and examinations are essential in preventing injuries. Examinations should include medical health histories, at-risk dental conditions, upper/lower jaw relationships, orthodontics, loose teeth, crowns and bridgework, and the need for the extraction of wisdom teeth. Extractions, specifically, should be done many months before the sports season begins to allow for complete healing. Not doing so could put the jaw at risk of fracture during competition. Determination of the need for a sport-specific type and design of custom mouthguard should also be made at this time.
As more research is being conducted, it is becoming more apparent that conditions affecting any part of the oral-dental complex can, and do, have an impact on an individual’s physical health. Comprehensive, multi-disciplinary strategies may provide the best solutions for establishing sound minds and bodies, which will allow any athlete to achieve their highest potential, both on and off the field of play.