“One of the happiest days in my years as a dentist was when, about 10 years ago, I took our old X-ray processing machines to the dump for disposal and we introduced digital radiography to this practice,” says Dr. C. Michael Willock, one of the area’s pre-eminent holistic dentists.
“This was a major and really thrilling advancement for our practice,” he exclaims. “Of greatest importance, the use of this new digital technology exposed patients to perhaps one-tenth the level of radiation of the old analog X-rays.
“And these new devices out-perform their predecessors in every way. They are faster, easier to use, much easier to read, and they allow us to capture images in the computer where they can be enhanced, enlarged, emailed— whatever we need to do. And they are so much better for the environment. Over time, we poured many hundreds of gallons of highly toxic developing and fixing chemicals down the drain as we processed X-ray films.
“A second major digital step forward for us came with introduction of the CEREC machine. CEREC is an acronym for Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics. It allows me to rapidly produce a ceramic dental restoration using a number of computer technologies, including 3-D photography. With CEREC, I can restore a tooth in a single sitting in a matter of minutes.
“Initially, I have to prepare the tooth for restoration, in the shape we want to accomplish. It needs to be free of all decay and be prepared for an impression. But the impression is light years ahead of the gooey, sticky materials we used for years. Instead, we put a tiny infrared camera in the patient’s mouth, and the ‘impression’ is actually taken in the form of a photograph.
“The image is rapidly available to me on a computer screen, where I can manipulate it and draw a precise outline of the restoration that’s needed, design the restoration in the computer, and then simply push a button and send a wireless signal to the built-in milling machine. It starts with a small block of porcelain about the size of the end of your little finger, and it custom mills that restoration in about 15 minutes. Then we can place it and permanently fix it in place.
“Compared to prior practice, we would make an impression with the gooey materials, let it harden and then send it off to the lab and get a final product in about two weeks. Meanwhile, we had to place a temporary filling for the patient, which would need to be removed so that we could bond the new restoration. It’s a bit like moving from a horse-and-buggy to a jet plane.
“And for either procedure—CEREC or the old method—the cost to the patient is exactly the same.”
“We’re working with a lab in Colorado Springs, possibly the only one of its kind, which is providing us with dental DNA information, using digital technology, based on the toxicology of root canals,” reports Dr. Willock. “Typically, we may extract a tooth, or provide a swab, and put it in a special container and send it off for DNA analysis.
“Often, the results are remarkable and sometimes disturbing—the kind of information a person will want to share with their physician. This work confirms the growing awareness of the strong, direct links that exist between oral health and the general health of the body.
“The DNA report identifies the bugs that exist in the mouth and their relationship to the health of bodily systems, including the heart, nerves, lungs, kidneys, the white and red blood cells, the sinuses, liver and spleen, oral cancer, the prostate and stomach ulcers, and more.
“I want to emphasize that this lab is not supplying diagnostic information, but simply reporting on the presence of bugs that have known links to health conditions. Staphylococcus aureus, for example, may be present in a root canal and is known to kill white blood cells. It is drug resistant, and produces a variety of other toxins. “Experts tell us we have 1500 billion bacteria in the mouth, made up of 300 different species of microbes living under the gums, along the roots of the teeth, and in root canals. Identifying the presence of significant bacteria can be an important step along the path to good oral and general health.”
Dr. Willock—traditionally trained as a dentist at UNCChapel Hill—is relentless in his pursuit of knowledge on behalf of his patients.
He is an accredited member of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), and completed an 83-hour post-graduate course in environmental medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“We studied environmental illnesses, chemical sensitivities, and the impact on our bodies of such heavy metals as mercury and nickel and cadmium—metals commonly used in dentistry,” he says. “There was also emphasis on neurotoxicity, endocrine toxicity, the effect of specific compounds on the immune system, and—of great importance— effective methods to detoxify the body.”
Later, Dr. Willock went to Irving, Texas, to study with Jerry Tennant, MD, ND, at the Tennant Institute for Integrative Medicine, whom he describes as “one of the great pioneering thinkers in the evolving field of integrative medicine.
“Dr. Tennant was among the first researchers to make links between the health of the teeth and the health of other organs in the body,” notes Dr. Willock. “Now all of medicine is beginning to recognize the effects of dental materials and infections on the rest of the body.
“There are,” he points out, “critical issues about dental health and whole body health. Infections in teeth—which we call decay—cause canals and the bone around teeth to develop poisons called gliotoxins and thioethers that affect the meridian of the infection and can affect other bodily organs on the same meridian.
“Further, some dental materials are often toxic. Mercury, for example, is one of the most poisonous substances known. Nickel, common in crowns and braces, is toxic to the brain and other organs.”
Today, Dr. Willock points out, “we have superior materials to place in teeth, such as composite resins and ceramics that bond to the tooth and seal it much better, and are less toxic than many traditional materials. Every person is different, however, and people often react differently to various materials. We can help them place bio-compatible materials as needed.”