Recently I was introduced to a magazine called The Sun by a good friend of ours. I loved it! She loaned us her January issue, and it contained a variety of articles related to health—a topic of great interest to all of us at Kuttler Dental. I appreciated the excerpted portion from Normal Cousins’ book entitled Anatomy of an Illness. Although I’ve read the book before, it was a refreshing reminder of the patient’s perspective, and I appreciated the reminder.
However, the article that I want to highlight was an interview with Dr. Andrew Weil titled “Vital Signs; Dr. Andrew Weil Diagnoses Western Medicine”. Although western medicine was the subject, much of the article could have just as easily been focused on dentistry. Both medical doctors and dentists are all trained to treat disease far more than we are to prevent it—although I’m happy to say that I believe dentistry has always been in the forefront of prevention and has emphasized it for many years.
Dr. Weil speaks of integrative medicine which he defines as “first and foremost focusing on the body’s natural healing potential, which has been ignored in conventional medical education and training.”He further explains the concept:
- Integrative medicine looks at the whole person, because patients are more than physical bodies. To understand health and illness you’ve got to look at the mental and emotional and spiritual dimensions, not to mention the person’s involvement in a community. If you pay attention only to the physical body, you limit your interventions to those that are often the most expensive and the most potentially harmful.
- Integrative medicine focuses on preventing disease and promoting health. Conventional medicine has failed us here, and that is one cause of the healthcare crisis. We are too occupied with managing cases of established diseases, most of which are lifestyle related and preventable. The essence of prevention is not colonoscopies and mammograms; it is understanding how our life choices reduce or increase the risk of disease. As a society we need to be helping people make better choices.
- Integrative medicine emphasizes the doctor-patient relationship, which was once a major reward of practicing medicine. In the era of for-profit medicine, that relationship has been sabotaged. If you work in a corporate practice that requires you to spend only five to seven minutes with each patient, you can’t form the kinds of relationships that foster healing and provide emotional satisfaction.
- Finally, integrative medicine embraces all therapeutic options that may be of value. That includes many that aren’t even on the radar of conventional medicine — simple, low-cost interventions like breath work and laughter therapy. The preference is for more-natural, less-invasive, less-expensive options whenever possible.
When I read Dr. Weil’s words, one of the big things I take away from them is that he is talking about the importance of first treating the patient and then that person’s disease. That feels very different to me than treating the disease that happens to be occupying someone’s body. I remember years ago hearing someone talk about the difference between saying someone is a diabetic versus saying someone has diabetes. That has stayed with me ever since, and we’ve tried very hard to integrate that approach into our practice. We try to care for our clients as people who may have dental problems and who almost certainly would like to prevent those problems from re-occurring in the future.
I also read Dr. Weil emphasizing the importance of forming a partnership between the physician ( I read “dentist” ) and the patient. That resonates with me so very much, because I believe there is little we can do to effectively treat dental disease that doesn’t need to involve the person who has it. While I can restore decayed or broken teeth, if we don’t change the environment of that person’s mouth, the problems will only re-occur. And I don’t believe that helps anyone.
Lastly, I appreciate how Dr. Weil stresses the importance of treating the body, mind, and spirit. While that may seem far out to some folks, especially as it relates to dentistry, I don’t agree. In dentistry we are trying to prevent, and are treating, “life-style diseases”. True preventive dentistry is far more than teaching someone to floss. It is working with people to identify some of the causes of their dental problems—whether those might be cavities, gum disease, teeth-grinding, or others. I believe those issues are significantly impacted by daily choices—their life’s style. Whenever we are paying attention to someone’s lifestyle, I believe we are involving the entire person—truly their body, mind and spirit.
Yes, we fix and clean teeth in our office, but we really want to help people require our services less in the future because they are healthier. Helping people develop healthy habits is the most valuable service we offer at Kuttler Dental!
-- Bill Kuttler, D.D.S.