Dave Walsh – Christchurch’s only holistic dentist - likes to think of holistic dentistry as “general dentistry on steroids”. An alternative approach to your stereotypical dental treatments, holistic dental practices look not just at the teeth and gums but consider total body health and wellness. We chat to Dave, Lead Dentist at Lumino’s Dentistry on Merivale, about why he has spent the last 20 years of his career looking beyond the mouth.
You graduated as a dentist in 1987, but your holistic passion came a little later. What sparked your interest in this area?
My studies in nutritional and environmental medicine over many years essentially left me with no choice! As I learned more about stuff like toxicity, it gradually changed my approach to my profession. Holistic medicine is like a 1000-piece puzzle, except when you finish it there are another thousand puzzles. Fascinating stuff!
Does Dentistry on Merivale offer both holistic and regular dental services?
To me, there is no difference. All dentistry should be holistic as it should be cosmetic and biologic. I will spend much more time with clients that are seeking advice around chronic issues or specifically enquire about holistic approaches, but all my treatment is based on holistic principles regardless. I feel every general dentist should be or at least aim to be, as holistic and biologic as possible.
What are some of the ways holistic dentistry differs from traditional dentistry?
‘Holistic’ refers to the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – so if there’s decay, we’ll consider reasons beyond the toothbrush. Diet, systemic inflammation, sleep quality, microbiome, chronic infection, autoimmune disorders and chemical sensitivities can all play a part. Teeth aren’t meant to rot…and if the hardest material in your body (enamel) is decaying, we need to think about what’s happening to the rest of the body!
What about fillings?
The most common clinical process I carry out at the practice is the removal and replacement of amalgam and metal. Why? When you put a ‘new to nature’ chemical in your body and leave it there 24/7 for perhaps decades, one must consider what it may be doing to the other systems in the body. Mercury, BPA, titanium dioxide, aluminum, and fluoride are just a few of the chemicals which can be absorbed by the body when they’re stored in the teeth. Thanks to things like grinding, hot, cold, acid, alkali, salt and enzymes, the mouth is a very violent environment. Ultimately, everything breaks down.
But surely we’re talking about such small amounts it’s hardly worth worrying about?
Sure, it may only be microscopic amounts of these chemicals being released into the body – but do we really think we know everything about their effects? I don’t! Continuous exposure may indeed have systemic effects over time. It’s very difficult to directly link this to chronic disease, but holistic/biologic dentistry considers the possibility and does everything it can to mitigate it. The body wants to be - and is - capable of being healthy if it’s allowed.
What sort of people can most benefit from holistic dentistry?
When people are doing everything they can to be as healthy as possible, or if they’re dealing with a chronic disease or trying to live with one, then holistic dentistry can help to rule out the mouth as one of the negatives on that journey. We often work with just the nuances of oral health, fine tuning things as much as possible to assist this group of people. I also network with many other natural or integrative healthcare professionals and can help patients find the professional advice they may need. It’s a jungle out there!
What are some of the results you’ve witnessed?
It’s remarkable how often people return a year or so after cleaning up their oral health and report seemingly unrelated improvements in health – things like brain fog and body aches.
Is holistic dentistry growing in popularity?
New Zealand is a little behind the curve in comparison to places like Canada, USA, Europe and Australia, but people are definitely becoming more educated about health (thanks to Dr Google and others!), and so here in New Zealand we’re now seeing an increasing interest in this type of practice. There are very few holistic dentists currently practicing here – I think I’m the only one in the South Island and there are only three in Auckland that I’m aware of – but I get calls from people all over the country who have questions and concerns about their dental treatment.
Is going to a holistic dentist more expensive?
No. In fact, I try to be as accessible as I can. My exam/consult fees are lower than average and fees for restorations are in line with other practices in the area. It’s a passion and service more than a profit centre.
Do you specialise in any other areas of dentistry?
I’m originally from Canada and back there I was a cosmetic specialist - I certainly consider myself competent in that area. I would say complex restorative and cosmetic dentistry are my other passions. Surgery, root canals and dentures are off the table – I refer nearly all of these procedures to other dentists or specialists.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a holistic dentist?
Forming close relationships with like-minded and proactive clients and truly helping them in their health journey using a system I trust. I enjoy the endless learning curve that holistic dentistry requires. Most of all though, I love it when clients come back a year after treatment and tell me it’s the best decision they ever made. That makes my day!