Functional Medicine & Dental Health:
Is There Something To It?

      Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS     February 2, 2016   [printfriendly]

Have you heard the term “functional medicine” floating around the Internet? Do you know what it means?


Functional Medicine & Dental HealthMany traditional medical practitioners do not embrace the concepts of functional medicine, but I do. Let me explain how functional medicine could actually benefit your dental health.


I am a traditionally educated periodontist and have been in practice for almost 42 years. Three years ago I began extensive functional-medicine training and subsequently earned the designation of Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. I have found incorporating the concepts of functional medicine with my traditional practice of treating gum disease can enhance the treatment I offer my patients.


So, what is Functional Medicine? Functional medicine is the science of looking deeper and deeper for the causes of disease and not just managing the symptoms of disease. Everything starts on the cellular level. Since there are 10 trillion human cells, there is a lot going on. Cells communicate with one another. A breakdown in that communication for whatever reasons can lead to improper function down the line – in the mouth and in the entire body.


In my experience with patients over the years, most have wanted to know the cause of their gum problems. The obvious causes are dental plaque, poor oral hygiene, and unhealthy biting forces on the teeth. These play an important role in the progression of gum disease. However, in certain situations, there may be more to gum disease than these obvious causes.


For example, some patients brush and floss daily, but still have bleeding gums. Others may see their dentist every six months, but they still are loosing their teeth. What’s going on here? Could there be deeper problems that have not been identified?


Functional medicine helps me look deeper into the not-so-obvious causes and mechanisms involved with gum diseases, which also may be causing other chronic diseases.


I believe that every patient is an individual and does not just fit into a group statistic. Each person has unique cellular qualities that respond to different things in different ways. My job is to find the individual differences that are causing disease and to help my patients become healthier. Specific functional medicine tests may take me a step closer to learning what is going on for that individual.


Since the mouth is just the beginning of the digestive tract that ends at the anus, anything that affects one part of this tube could affect other parts. Various tests can be performed using blood, saliva, urine, stool, and breath to help put the pieces of the puzzle together. Damage to the gut lining, overgrowth of bad bacteria and other microbes, and toxic chemicals interfering with the functions of cells can all be studied by using specific functional testing. If damage to some of the cells could be traced back to specific offenders, and if those offenders could be removed or corrected, then other cells might heal. Improving the health of individual cells could improve the health of tissues and organ systems. The mouth as well as the entire body could benefit from discovering the underlying causes.


In future articles, I will describe several of the most reliable functional medicine tests that could be considered.


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Kids, Paleo, and Dental Health

evolution rKaren Mozzo, publisher of CARE Magazine, recently interviewed me. She wanted to help readers of the magazine get a handle on how Paleo would work with kids, and how dental health was related to all of this. Here are her questions and my answers:
Is a Paleo diet a healthy diet for children under age 18?
Absolutely. But the term “diet” is misleading. A diet generally is a strict form of eating where calories are counted and portions of food are measured in some fashion. A Paleo diet is really a lifestyle of eating nutrient-dense foods with no concern for calories. When the proper foods are eaten together, then the body begins to regulate its digestive hormones, and the body will tell you to stop eating because it is full. Every meal should be thought of as a plate of food. Conceptually, at least one-half of the plate should consist of non-starchy vegetables; about one-quarter should consist of some type of protein; and the last quarter or less could be make up of healthy fats, and possibly a starchy vegetable, or some nuts or seeds, or some deeply colored fruits. The nutrients that are available from eating animal products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are all the nutrients that the human body needs – no matter what the age.
Does some sugar in a child’s diet mean they are destined for poor dental health?
Sugar in the natural form is not the same as concentrated sugars and refined sugars that actually are added to foods like processed foods. Sugars that are in fruits are much healthier than the sugars a child gets in soda, sports drinks, cakes, cookies, candy, and the list goes on and on. However, if too much fresh fruit is eaten instead of balancing fruit with proteins and vegetables and healthy fats, then too much fructose will accumulate in the body creating excesses for the liver and the brain, damaging the gut, and creating fat deposits around the waist. Sugar is a fermentable carbohydrate, and if bad bacteria are predominant in the gut and in the mouth, and if sugar is a dominant element in the child’s diet, and if healthy nutrients are not part of the child’s diet, then tooth decay will be inevitable.
How do you suggest dealing with the typical parent’s dilemma of keeping sugary foods out of their children’s diet? Regulating or eliminating sweets, sugary drinks, refined milk products, processed grain treats may be the best idea, but it’s often not practical for a parent. Often times, parents are not even aware if their child has sugar… i.e. a sports drink or “energy” bar after a Little League game; cakes or sweets at a birthday party.
Parents are in control of the foods that are presented to their children. Healthy foods are easy to provide, but in the beginning there is a learning curve. The books I recommended in my last article have excellent meals that are easy to prepare and delicious to eat for the whole family. Many of them are easy to pack up and take on a trip or to school.
The foods that are most important to eliminate are grains and added sugars. Whole foods will not contribute significantly to an unhealthy level of sugars. If a child’s food choices in the home are generally healthy, then some cheating outside of the home is not going to be a problem. Dr. Loren Cordain, who is the “godfather” of Paleo research, states that if a person is 85% compliant, then that person overwhelmingly will benefit from a Paleo eating lifestyle.
The younger the child is when you start a Paleo lifestyle, the easier it will be to follow. An older child’s eating habits may be more difficult to change but not impossible. Take baby steps, but children learn from what they see at home. You are their model.
Parents these days are so often in a hurry to get everything done in a typical day. Grocery shopping presents quite a hurdle in these cases… it’s so much easier to ‘grab and go’ when your child is hungry and you need to get them fed. What’s a parent to do?
Again, try to avoid the grains and added sugars when your child is fed. Shop the outer aisles in the grocery store where the more natural foods are located and avoid the packaged and overly processed foods in the center of the store. If purchasing packaged foods, look at the ingredients, and be selective. You will be amazed at what are in some of these “foods”. Again, grains and added sugars are the most troublesome. You may not be 100% Paleo, but you will be providing your child with a very healthy foundation.
Some quick ideas for on-the-go:
Raw almond butter spread on stalks of celery
Raw vegetables and/or sliced fruits with individual containers of live-culture, • • full-fat yogurt for dipping. Add spices to the yogurt to create different flavors
Chicken salad or tuna salad with chopped nuts, blueberries, and cut up celery. Lettuce leaves (butter or Romaine lettuce) are good for a wrap
Raw macadamia nuts
If you eat out while ‘on the road’, are fast food places forever banned? What if they’re on their way to an out-of-town game and can’t take the time to stop for a sit down meal?
Fast food places usually are not a problem once you understand what you cannot eat.
Some examples of what to eat:
Some type of salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing and whatever spices that are available at the restaurant.
Hard boiled eggs, hamburger or chicken meat – crumbled up and tossed into the salad
Fresh fruit if available
Water, unsweetened iced or hot tea, or seltzer

Why the Tooth Fairy Gave Up Grains:
A Whimsical Tale

evolution rYou may think you know all about tooth fairies. As you know, they discreetly appear at night to exchange your child’s baby tooth, that’s tucked away under his or her pillow, for little trinkets. They flutter about with their cute big eyes and their huge smiles and their soft, silky wings. But what you probably didn’t know was that these precious little busy bees have been around for a long time. As a matter of fact, they have been around for tens of thousands of years.


These tooth fairies knew of a time when little boys and little girls hardly ever got tooth decay. In those days, mommies and daddies worked hard gathering and hunting food. The children ate all the good, nutritious foods that their parents brought to the table. Bodies were strong and lean, and teeth were white and straight. Adult teeth lasted a lifetime, as they were designed to do. But then, something changed, but the fairies didn’t realize it until much later.


About 10,000 years ago, certain foods were cultivated that slowly became part of almost everyone’s diet. The fairies didn’t think any harm was going to come from these new foods. But it did. In time, these foods started to damage the teeth of children and adults. All of a sudden, it seemed like many people started to develop toothaches and loose teeth and holes in their teeth. The fairies finally learned that something was wrong with these new foods. They learned that these foods – these grains – were the cause of the dental problems and other health problems that were beginning to plague humans.


Then, refined sugars became part of most human’s diets. And then, the fairies understood that these sugars added to the problems from grains. The fairies made a pledge to give up these grains and sugars and to try to tell everybody that these were not healthy foods.


The way the fairies used to eat, and the way humans used to eat before grains became so much a part of the diet, was the healthy way to eat. So the fairies became focused on a mission – to tell the world that grains and sugars needed to be avoided in order to regain dental health and overall health. You see, our bodies were never designed to eat these modern day foods. Our guts just couldn’t fully digest them, and these foods eventually upset our delicate balance. It took a long time for the fairies to realize that so many chronic problems were caused by these “foods”.


So, the fairies gave up grains and sugars and started to teach the world to be a healthier place. Most importantly, the fairies wanted to teach the children, whom they were meant to protect, to eat healthy.


To create healthy meals for your children, consider leaving grains and added-sugars out, and replacing them with healthy meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and various spices. It is important to include leafy green vegetables at every meal. The foods hunter-gatherers ate for thousands and thousands of years are the foods that will allow healthy bodies of all ages to survive and thrive today. These food choices are part of a Paleo Lifestyle. A great book that describes the Paleolithic lifestyle is The Primal Blueprint Updated and Expanded (2012) by Mark Sisson.


Here are some of my favorite family books to help you design exciting food options for your kids as well as yourselves:

Nom Nom Paleo: Food For Humans, Michelle Tam and Henry Fong, 2013
Paleo Lunches and Breakfasts on the Go, Diana Rodgers, 2013
Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach…, Diane Sanfilippo, et al, 2012
The Paleo Primer, Keris Marsden and Matt Whitmore, 2013


Next time I’ll post some of my favorite recipes. Here are a few that I will post:

• Yummy and Oh-So-Healthy Smoothie
• Cracklin’ Italian-spiced Chicken Thighs
• No-Oat Oatmeal
• Plantain Pancakes
• Wild Caught Salmon Baked in Parchment Paper
• Homemade Ghee the Easy Way

You can stop gum disease

evolution rThis is a mighty big statement that requires an explanation.


First, think about this question: If there were a species whose only means of getting nutrition was by chewing food, and if this species had rampant tooth and gum disease causing the loss of those precious teeth, what would happen to that species over thousands of years of evolution? The answer: This species would die off, because it couldn’t survive over time.
Now consider this fact: Primitive man and woman from Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods did not have gum disease or tooth decay. Why is that?


Let’s step back and consider animals in the wild. They don’t develop dental decay or gum disease or degenerative diseases like modern-day humans, and they don’t get fat like modern-day humans, either. They may lose a tooth in combat, and they do gain weight intentionally to prepare for the cold, winter months or hibernation, but they use this storage naturally and lose it naturally. They eat food in the wild when their bodies tell them they are hungry, and they stop eating when their bodies tell them they are full. But get this: When chimpanzees and other wild animals are raised in captivity, they do have dental problems; they do get fat; and they do develop chronic degenerative diseases if they are not fed their natural diets.


The differences between wild animals and us are that there are no fast foods or sugary drinks or frozen dinners with a gazillion additives and preservatives in the wild. Wild animals don’t eat meat that has been artificially fattened with hormones and antibiotics. And they don’t eat genetically modified foods that have never been tested for long-term effects on their bodies. Wild animals eat what their bodies have been designed to eat for thousands of years. In contrast, we eat what has been processed, refined, hybridized, and genetically modified over the last several decades. Our bodies are rebelling.


Primitive man and woman were hunters and gatherers. They ate the foods that their environments provided for them. They did not eat the processed, refined, hybridized, and genetically modified “foods” we stuff into our bodies every day.


Today, over 95 percent of all gum disease and tooth decay is caused by harmful bacteria in our mouths. And harmful bacteria in our mouths are created by harmful bacteria in our gut. And harmful bacteria in our gut are increased by certain foods we eat—specifically dense carbohydrates and refined sugars—those highly processed, refined, hybridized, and genetically modified “foods” of modern-day lifestyles.


Current medical evidence suggests that many modern-day diseases, including gum disease, may have their root cause from the unhealthy bacteria in our gut. If we can transform the harmful bacteria in our gut into friendly bacteria, then many of our modern-day diseases might be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether. Wow! What a powerful possibility!


What do you think might happen to gum disease if we actually address the nutritional causes of the disease, and then treat it with the most cutting-edge method that is becoming the standard of care in dentistry today?


Here is what you could do: You could make healthier choices with your meals by eliminating the bad foods, specifically grains and grain products, as well as processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars. In addition, you could include fermented foods like sauerkraut
and yogurt and kefir daily, which may help repopulate the good bacteria in your gut and replace the bad bacteria. Of course, this will take time. It won’t happen in just a few weeks. So be patient.


Along with improving the nutritional balance in your body, the source of major gum problems could be treated with the PerioLase® Laser, which kills the bacteria causing this disease without harming healthy cells and without using a scalpel or sutures. It also helps grow new bone.


Laser treatment results in better outcomes with less discomfort and quicker recovery times than traditional surgical methods. The laser treatment is called LANAP® (Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure).


So here’s the bottom line. You can stop gum disease by:

  • Making healthier food choices
  • Repopulating the friendly bacteria in your gut by eating a variety of fermented foods
  • Eliminating unhealthy mouth bacteria through the use of evidence-based, patient-friendly treatment
  • Repairing any damage that has already been done in your mouth with necessary dental treatment
  • Maintaining a healthy body through healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle, incorporating effective exercise, proper sleep, and stress reduction.


(This article originally appeared in CH2)