Dentistry and the Path of the Spirit

49coverBy David J. Shuch, DDS
Issue: Fall 2007: Issue #49, Vol. 12

LILIPOH was kind enough to ask me to write about holistic dentistry; it is a very broad subject and the space in this publication is limited. In an effort to make the best use of this resource and hopefully to give you, the reader, something useful, I would like to share with you the path that I have taken over the past 27 years. I will be sharing with you my influences, my experiences, some kernels of wisdom that I have gained, and what my current experiments entail. Please know that I am not a resource for recommending other dentists; instead by way of this story, I hope to give you eyes to see so that you can find someone that you can work with.

In 1980, while attending NYU College of Dentistry, I was fortunate that a Rudolph Steiner reading library existed on Madison Avenue in the 30s, not far from my apartment. It was in a wonderful old Brownstone and I would frequent it to read and buy a book or two, and speak to a fellow named Gene who kept the place going. I was introduced to Steiner’s work in the late 1970s while attending undergraduate school. What struck me most about him was his supreme sense of balance. He balanced the rigors of his intellect with the passions of his heart and through this balanced instrument he applied his will in a different kind of balance. He balanced his own inner work and experimentation with an equally vigorous outer work and experimentation; he worked for his own understanding as well as for the understanding and benefit of society at large. This approach to life left a very deep impression on me that remains to this day.
Dental school and my first decade in practice taught me much about the mechanics of being a good dentist and something about what it meant to take care of people. But in those early days I was employed by other dentists and I was not in a position to freely practice my own philosophy of care. As such it was not until about 1993 or so that I began to get a greater sense of how my practice could be a path of the Spirit as well. In truth, dentistry involves a tremendous amount of technical skill, and it takes years of practice and refinement to achieve consistently fine results. I believe that it is important for all dentists to refrain from augmenting the care they give with more esoteric modalities of care until they have mastered the basics of good technical dentistry.
It was in about 1993 I began to notice that despite all my skill and care, and despite following all that I had learned, some of my patients not only didn’t improve with my care, but actually got worse. But after reviewing my treatments to see if I had made some error I came to realize that I had not erred in performing the treatments that I had learned. Rather, the patients that I was treating required something more that I had not learned, and in some cases they required some things that just were not being taught at all to dentists. It was as if the Universe was placing complex cases in my hands in order to prod me to learn more.
Through my interest in Steiner’s work, I was drawn to the benefits of homeopathy and spent many years seriously studying this science. Slowly, I began to offer acute remedies within the normal course of my practice and found that my patients were healing faster and feeling better sooner. On occasion I was able to offer remedies for nervous, fearful or panicky patients that enabled them to easily tolerate care without need for pharmaceutical sedatives. Furthermore, I found how very important it was for both my office setting to be calm and calming and for me as well to be calm and calming. This took quite a bit of doing as I needed to evolve my way of practicing away from the conventional “industrial production” model of modern dental care to one of work environment as sacred space.
I found that defective nutrition or defective absorption of nutrients was often an underlying factor in gum disease, and so I began to study nutrition. Slowly, I began to suggest some key nutrients, notably Vitamin C and Coenzyme Q-10, to my patients with gum disease and found that there was a marked improvement in many cases. In studying gum disease I began to formulate a different view of this common condition, a view of it as an ecosystem out of balance that, with appropriate nutrients, botanicals, and homeopathic tissue salts could often be brought back into a state of homeostatic balance.
I discovered that we each have internal electrical systems and our body’s response to everything from environmental toxins to emotional challenges depends on the flexibility and robustness of this electrical system. For some people, eliminating small amounts of toxins or dealing with emotional stresses are no big deal, but for others, these same stressors can be devastating. I learned to use the techniques of applied kinesiology, also known as muscle testing, to probe these and other issues pertinent to my diagnosis. I found for example that some people are extremely sensitive to the small amounts of mercury that are released from dental amalgam fillings, while other people seem to clear this toxin without much fuss. I developed a protocol whereby I could safely remove these kinds of fillings when necessary using dental dam barriers, oxygen inhalation, key vitamins, and high volume suction. In some cases, I saw dramatic improvements in systemic health and functioning. I also discovered how very sensitive some individuals are to many of the dental materials that are routinely used. Using this same testing method, I became able to screen patients to see what materials they could easily accommodate.
One area that took many years for me to master was how to take care of people with problems with their jaw joints, painful chewing muscles, or bites that were uncomfortable. I discovered that in this area advanced dental study did exist at two schools in Florida, The Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education, and The Dawson Center for Advanced Dental Studies. Through taking hundreds of hours of courses in both of these institutions and practicing what I learned, a whole new world opened up for me. I came to understand the finer points of what makes a bite comfortable and stable and what, on the other hand, stresses the joints, the teeth, the chewing muscles, the bones of the skull, the neck vertebrae, and in some cases, the acupuncture meridians that traverse these areas.
Holistic dentistry has no broadly agreed upon meaning so I don’t like using the term. I prefer “Integrative dentistry” as I feel that it is important to take the very finest that technical dentistry has to offer and add to it whatever modalities, environment, inner work, etc that Spirit dictates for that individual practitioner. I can’t imagine that any two integrative practices would look or feel the same, but there should be a sense of technical excellence, open-mindedness, and a sense that the Spirit lives within the practitioner and within his or her practice environment.

David Shuch runs The Center for Integrative Dentistry in northwestern New Jersey His first book, Doctor, Be Well: Integrating the Spirit of Healing with Scientific Medicine received wide acclaim within the Alternative/Complementary Healthcare community and it is being used in the Program in Integrative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. His most recent title, The Charm Carver, won the Midwest Book Review’s top Reviewer’s Choice selection in January 2006.