Home' News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin June 2015 Contents 26
Many Australian dentists’ websites proudly advertise that they
practise holistic dentistry, a philosophy that promotes health and
wellness rather than simply treating disease, and considers the
whole body and mind, not just teeth.
It sounds exciting. The implication is that this practice is very
different – and superior – to the type of dentistry being practised
by mainstream dental professionals. But different doesn’t actually
Most holistic dental surgeries embrace and encourage alternative
therapies. A quick internet search finds Australian dentists
practising or endorsing homeopathy, naturopathy, Bach flower
essences, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractic,
ayurvedic medicine, osteopathy, kinesiology, crystals, aromatherapy,
reiki, vibrational healing, Buteyko and esoteric chakra-puncture.
Since all dentists are registered by the Australian Health
Practitioner Regulation Agency, the public tends to assume
they must be reputable and their treatments, even if out of the
ordinary, must be effective. And, surely, we have to respect the
centuries of ancient wisdom from whence many of these therapies
came, right? Well, yes and no.
not qUite riGHt
Many ancient remedies have given us modern medical treatments.
Hippocrates recognised that powdered willow bark (containing
aspirin) alleviated headaches. South Americans used cinchona bark
(containing quinine) to treat malaria. Traditional Chinese medicine
gave us ephedrine, a commonly used stimulant and decongestant,
and the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. Both are now effective
But doing something for centuries doesn’t automatically make it
right. From the time of the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians
up to the late 19th century, misguided medicos bled patients,
sometimes to death, in vain attempts to treat a multitude of ills.
Bloodletting is still a core belief in some traditional health systems.
And traditional Chinese medicine also uses rhino horns, tiger
penises, shark fins and bear bile. Even ignoring the appallingly
cruel way these “medicines” are obtained, none has any proven
health benefits. Rhino horns are more expensive by weight than
gold. As they consist largely of the protein keratin, purchasers
could have saved a fortune by chewing their toenails.
Former Victorian dentist and self-styled “professor” Noel Campbell
was practising (very) alternative dentistry in the late 1990s when
charged with administering ozone to a patient’s rectum to relieve
her facial pain. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.
Campbell avoided disciplinary action by allowing his dental
registration to lapse but continues to provide unproven alternative
therapies to patients with cancer and other conditions through his
website. And he’s not alone.
The recent cases of Wellness Warrior Jessica Ainscough and The
Whole Pantry’s Belle Gibson show the importance of safe and
effective health-care recommendations being based on more than
a pretty smile and social media presence.
importance oF eViDence
But aren’t some alternative therapies safe and effective? And how
can we tell the difference? Thankfully, we have very good ways of
determining if health treatments are effective.
The concept of evidence-based health care has arisen over the
past few decades and is now almost universally accepted as the
required standard for professional health practice.
Evidence-based dentistry accepts patients’ needs and preferences,
while insisting treatments be based on the highest-quality scientific
evidence and regular systematic reviews of published research.
Currently, most alternative therapies have a very limited evidence
base to support their practice, and research methodologies are
often poor. If a beneficial effect is shown, it’s often no greater
than that achieved by placebo treatment, and less than that
achieved by mainstream health care.
Most “natural” medications have never been placed on the
Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods simply because they’ve
The following article was originally published on The Conversation* and is republished
in the News Bulletin for the information of members.
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