Going to the dentist is a longstanding tradition for millions of families seeking improved dental health, but the industry has shifted in recent years as more patients seek holistic-minded options.
Holistic dentistry is still far from the mainstream, but by and large it is distinguished from mainstream dentistry through the use of less invasive, more natural and holistic techniques, along with the use materials and substances deemed to be less harmful.
Recently, AltHealthWorks.com sat down for an email interview with holistic dentist Dr. Karaneh Jahan of Brio Dental in Portland, Oregon, a full service holistic dentist office designed with the goal of “aligning oral care with overall wellness.”
Dr. Jahan spoke at length about the potential dangers of mercury fillings, fluoride in the water supply, oil pulling and other topics of interest.
Editor’s note: Dr. Jahan disagrees with our editorial stance on the potential harms of topical fluoride (which I personally avoid using); however she is a professional dentist with far more knowledge on the subject, so be sure to read what she says and weigh it against your own values system, and your own doctor and holistic dentist’s recommendations. She also is against fluoridation of the water supply among other fluoride-related topics.
The interview is as follows:
AHW: How did you get your start in the holistic branch of dentistry, and how did you learn that it was an option in the first place?
KJ: Honestly, when I started even considering taking a more holistic route towards dentistry, at that time, I wasn’t aware that holistic dentistry was even a thing. I had no idea that there were holistic dentists out there.
I took that route because of different scenarios and incidents that I came across in my life.
One of those was while I was in dental school, and for some reason, I didn’t feel right about the fact that my dental school was teaching and kind of pushing silver fillings on students.
“I felt like it was very dated, and I did a research paper on the safety of mercury in amalgam fillings.”
The conclusion of all my research came through that there’s just not enough research – and this was at that time, things have changed, but at that time, it was inconclusive.
There was not enough research to prove that mercury fillings were completely safe. Within the last few months, a new research article came out that actually proved that mercury fillings are directly linked to neurological disorders like anxiety and depression.
“We’re starting to understand that there is absolutely a negative link between the mercury in the fillings and overall health.”
When I was a dental student, it just didn’t sit right with me because mercury fillings weren’t proven safe.
And now that we have more information, science is proving that it’s not safe, so that was one thing I wanted to change people’s perspective with mercury fillings. And that was the first spark that made me consider alternatives.
The other thing was fluoride or the safety of fluoride.
Typically fluoride is added to the water system, and there was a very similar conclusion that I came to that there’s just not enough research about it.
The research that has been done was based on a short-term trial, not long enough for us to see the repercussions in generations since it was just in the last 50 years that we’ve started researching the safety of fluoride in water.
Fluoride is found in many different plants (sesame and green tea leaves) and can also leach into water systems. That’s why we recommend oil pulling with sesame oil, which is a great way to get a natural boost of fluoride.
Fluoride is not a harmful substance on its own, but adding it to the water system and having people ingest it chronically is dangerous when research has proven to be inconsistent and inconclusive.
Fluoride topically is safe (within the right proportions, of course), and there are benefits for oral health by strengthening the enamel and reducing caries risk, so I’m all about fluoride topically, but not so much fluoride ingested internally; that’s my stance on fluoride.
Q: Was becoming a dentist and holistic health and lifestyle coach something you’ve always wanted to do? And if so when did you know it was the career path for you?
A: I remember when I brought up my concerns about the things being taught and my research on them. My professors were somewhat against me testing the industry standard, and that in and of itself was concerning – why weren’t they even open to a possibility that the stuff being taught might not be right?
To not even think about the possibility of the other side of the discussion, what are the downfalls of mercury and not even being sure or not having 100% assurance that it’s not causing more harm than good.
That really made me understand that the dental industry is so set in its ways, and it makes it seem like dentists aren’t really pro-change.
That’s just the feeling I got when I was in dental school, where I first noticed that they feel uncomfortable with alternatives or anything different from what has been done for years, and at least the progression to change within the dental field is very slow.
And then also, right when I got accepted into dental school, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, which was pretty debilitating.
I was prescribed lots of medications that I was told to take for the rest of my life because the illness I have is not curable, and they said the only way to manage this illness is with these medications.
And I remember my doctor – he’s a nice man, but I remember when I would go in for my visits, he would ask me, “Oh how are you, are you taking your medications,” and I said, “No, because they don’t make me feel good.”
They put me on a bunch of steroids and medications I just didn’t want to take every day, three times a day.
And he was frustrated with me because I’m a doctor and said I needed to be more compliant, that I should understand, and I said, “Well, I’m trying to look into more alternative ways of controlling and managing my symptoms. What about eliminating certain foods or stress management and or making lifestyle changes?”
And his response was limited to, “You can try that and add that to your daily, but that still doesn’t mean you can get off your medications as you need these to manage it.”
So, my doctors weren’t really supportive, and they basically scolded me when I was trying to explore other routes. Initially, I tried many different things, and it totally failed because I would get flare-ups and get sick again.
I had no choice but to get back on medication because I was having a lot of symptoms.
“But just within the last three years, with lots of trial and error, I really think I felt the sweet spot for my body.”
What it likes and what it doesn’t like, and I made some changes in my diet – I mean, I’ve always had a really healthy diet, but certain things really instigated my flare-ups like gluten was one of them, a lot of like fibrous foods, heavily spiced things.
But I made some lifestyle changes and diet changes, and I have not touched any of my medications for almost two and a half years now.
I’m my own guinea pig, a real-life example that a bit of trial and error doesn’t hurt.
We should be open to exploring other options out there. Don’t just be blinded to alternatives– healthier, more natural alternatives– is also what inspired a more holistic approach to health, life, and dentistry.
Long story short, no, this was definitely not something I’ve always known I wanted to do. I realized that I need to do this when I graduated and decided to take a more holistic approach to dentistry.
Then I started doing research and discovered that while there are some holistic dentists out there when I was trying to learn about them, they didn’t have any exceptional credentials or anything like that.
They were just like general dentists who didn’t have any extra training or certifications to be a holistic dentist.
“I think this will change, but right now, there isn’t an advanced degree or special training out there to give you an official title or an authority of some sort that is similar to how we have DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine).”
Maybe there could be a school with a bit of extra training, and then you could become holistic.
Anyways, I realized a lot of these dentists didn’t have anything that gave them the authority, and for me, it’s essential that when I say something, I have the credentials to back it up.
After I did research, I found a year-long program that was a holistic health and lifestyle coaching program, so I got certified to show that I have studied this in-depth, in addition to hundreds of hours of continuing holistic education (CE) credits.
Q: According to research from the Academy of General Dentistry, it’s been said that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases begin in the mouth. As someone who believes strongly in the connection between oral health and overall health, what is your take on this assertion?
Does this figure sound correct in your estimation, or is it something that anyone can put a number on?
A: Your mouth is a part and the gateway to the rest of your body. Certain bacteria in your mouth are either aerobic or anaerobic, which means that they need more oxygen to survive versus needing less oxygen, respectively.
Depending on their need for oxygen, bacteria have the capabilities to reside in certain parts of your mouth versus others, such as deep within gum pockets, crevices of the tonsils, or the surfaces of your enamel.
Some types of bacteria can cause harm and damage to your tissues versus others that are essentially “healthier” for your mouth and work to balance the increase in the populations of the harmful kinds of bacteria.
If specific pathogens in your mouth can overgrow due to poor hygiene/diet/reduced salivary flow/stress, they can cross the thin tissue walls of your gums, enter your bloodstream, and travel to other areas in your body.
This process has been associated with a number of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and even depression.
Q: You have stated that your office in Portland, Oregon feels more like a spa than a dentist’s office, and your goal is to make it a welcoming, positive, and affirming place that customers look forward to visiting.
How did you come up with this vision and do you believe you have succeeded in this area thus far?
A: Brio does feel like a spa, although it’s not necessarily tranquil, because I wanted my dental practice to be a fun place that people can get excited to go and visit. Even as patients walk-in, we have a lot of fun music playing, so it’s not necessarily full yoga mode.
We have lots of bright colors that inspire joy and enthusiasm, alongside softer components to give it a spa-like feel. I wanted it to be a combination of calming and exciting mixed together.
My goal was to create a welcoming, positive, and affirming atmosphere.
We’re non-judgmental; our team is very diverse in every way. So I think people are coming in here, and anybody from any walk of life can feel that these people will understand me, or at least I don’t feel out of place.
That’s one of the biggest things about how I train my team is we never shame anybody. Many people come in, and they’re ashamed of their mouth, but that’s not the point.
The point is that they’re here now, they’re in the chair, they’ve made some effort to improve their oral condition, so what’s the point when somebody comes all this way and get over all their obstacles, their fears, and anxieties, make an appointment, and even have saved up money for their dental needs, just to have someone shame them for being there? That’s ridiculous!
Unfortunately, it’s something that happens all the time in other clinics. So at Brio, we don’t shame at all. The fact that they’re here is good enough for us, and we recognize that this is where you start.
We’re not going to be stuck in the past; let’s just start where you are now and move forward. That’s how we view it.
Q: Of all the different healthy services you offer through your office, which do you believe is the most unique among your peers in the traditional dental industry?
And which do you feel is the most important to offer for improved dental health?
Q: What Brio offers is a metal-free treatment plan (no metal crowns, no metal fillings, no partial metal dentures, and no metal implants), safe mercury filling removal, alternatives to Fluoride, traditional harmful mouthwashes, ozone therapy, TMJ massages, anxiety management tools such as warm neck pillows, aromatherapy, blankets, etc.
I recently received my training in ceramic dental implantation as a healthier alternative to traditional zirconia implants. I’m one of less than five dentists in Oregon that offer ceramic implants, and that’s definitely unique.
The other day we had an actual implant clinic refer a patient to us. Even though it was a specialty oral surgery clinic, where patients go specifically for implant placement, their oral surgeons couldn’t give the patient what he wanted, a metal-free implant. So they referred this patient to us because we do ceramic. The patient had a metal allergy and could only do ceramic, so it’s crazy that a specialty clinic like Oral Surgery Clinic is referring patients to a general dentistry clinic; it’s infrequent to come across.
It’s hard because I don’t think there is just one service or one specific thing that is the most important.
Still, it’s a combination of all the different things that we do and offer that makes us unique or improves your dental experience in general. The way I see it, it’s not just one thing that makes a significant impact on the world, but it’s a combination of the many small things that really make the experience – truly the holistic use of all of them.
How we educate and what we educate the patients on is an incredibly important part of the process because we’re opening their minds to different ways to approach dental and overall health that they likely haven’t ever come across before in past dental experiences.
Probably the essential thing that we offer is just a fresh, different approach to how dentistry can be done.
Q: How does ozone therapy factor into your practice, and is there anything you’d like people to know about this powerful holistic therapy?
A: Mainly, we utilize ozone therapy because we have an Ozonator machine in the office, so we make a fresh batch of ozone water as needed for the patients who can benefit from it.
The downside to ozone is that it deozonates within a couple of hours, so you have to make it fresh and then utilize it immediately; you can’t store it in a bottle and take it home.
Sometimes, you could extend its life if you freeze it.
We utilize it in practice mainly for patients that have deep gum pockets from periodontal disease. We make a fresh batch of ozone water and irrigate the deep pockets with ozonated water, which is just as potent as Chlorhexidine, a mouthwash.
Still, it’s not all-natural, and it’s been proven to cause more harm than good if you use it chronically. So we prefer to use something that’s much more natural and just as effective, Ozone Water, which kills the bacteria.
The best part about it is when it interacts with the bacterial membrane or the outer shell; the byproduct is just water and oxygen.
That’s it, and you can drink it – totally safe. The thing I want people to know about ozone therapy is that it’s very effective and all-natural.
The byproduct is entirely safe and non-toxic.
Q: Do you believe it is possible to heal cavities naturally or to at least prevent tooth decay from getting worse, and if so is this something you’ve discussed with patients before?
A: Oh yeah, you can absolutely heal a cavity if it’s shallow enough and still confined to the enamel layer. I don’t know how familiar you are with the anatomy of a tooth, but you have the outer layer, which is enamel, then the next layer, which is dentin (soft and porous), and then the internal layer, where the nerves of your teeth reside. So if you have a cavity that is confined to the enamel layer, those have the potential to heal and actually reverse.
But you have to do something to reverse them; they don’t just reverse on their own. And the way to do that is through a holistic route. Brushing and flossing are fantastic; you’ve got to improve on that 100%.
You’ve got to brush twice a day and floss at least once a day if you want to reverse some of these cavities. But they aren’t the only solution. You have to think holistically, so see below for my tips:
Unless you’re very active about your health through lifestyle and diet, most people aren’t getting the critical minerals, and vitamins found naturally through diet.
Sometimes, one of the best solutions is to supplement, especially with vitamin D3 (5,000 IUs daily).
Brio Dental is in Oregon, and I don’t know how familiar you are with Portland, but we barely get any sun. So unless you’re outside, in the sunshine for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, on a regular basis, most likely you’re not getting enough vitamin D3.
A simple blood test can check Vitamin D levels — talk to your doctor.
It’s recommended to take all three because combining D3 with Magnesium and Calcium will all work together to help your bone health and dental health by helping to remineralize your teeth.
Calcium, which is needed for strong, healthy teeth, cannot be absorbed without Vitamin D3.
And if enough Calcium is not absorbed through diet, the body will steal from bones and teeth to get it! However, Calcium supplementation without Magnesium results in soft enamel, and Magnesium is needed to activate Vitamin D.
Other supplements, like the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, are extremely helpful in absorbing the vitamins that your body needs to help your teeth rebuild themselves and strengthen your enamel.
Taking probiotics is one way to help reestablish microbiome balance and is good for your entire GI tract, which goes through the gut and your mouth to bring a more balanced bacterial population.
Hydroxyapatite or Fluoride kinds of toothpaste, like the Risewell and Hello brands, can also help to remineralize the teeth.
Using Alcohol-Free mouthwash or Coconut oil-pull is preferred since alcohol dries out your mouth.
Daily use of traditional floss or water-flosser, including Risewell’s Hydroxyapatite floss or a water-flosser, like Philips Sonicare AirFloss Ultra, can help to disturb the populations of bacteria and encourage the good kinds to thrive.
Finally, tongue scraping is another excellent tool to help reduce the oral bacterial load and reduce salivary acidity.
There’s a lot more that goes into what kind of supplements you should be taking and how it’s best for you to manage your stress.
Ask yourself if you are at all managing your stress, how much water you’re taking in, all those sorts of things will bring about balance in your oral environment. In and of itself, it will reduce the population of the harmful bacteria versus improving the good. Stress Management is KEY!
Manage stress with Epsom salt baths, yoga, meditation, magnesium supplements for good sleep.
Some Calcium and Magnesium-rich foods to incorporate into your diet are avocados, seeds, legumes, dark greens, almonds, fatty fish, and using MCT oil for absorption.
Q: If you had to give three pieces of dietary and/or lifestyle advice for someone who wants to prevent cavities and have better oral health in general, what would they be?
A: See above!
- Stress management
- Proper Supplementation
- Staying hydrated to increase salivary flow
Q: It says on your biography that you come from an artistic Persian family of six, and you have a long list of interesting hobbies (horseback riding, violin, artistry, animal lover, and “bird whisperer)
Do you have any advice for someone who may be stuck in a rut and wants to pursue hobbies like these, but doesn’t feel as though they have the resources or the health or the peer group support necessary to get started?
A: I’m going to be brutally honest here — owning a startup is HARD. I don’t mean just a little challenging here and there. I mean that it will take over a considerable portion of your life and time, and you will need to make a lot of sacrifices in order to make it work and even more so to make it a successful business. That’s just how it goes.
BUT, the key to all this change and complexity is SELF CARE. How do you do that when your time is limited? You try to weave it all in throughout your day and week, little by little, here and there when you can.
On weekends, I try to go for a short walk in the park next to my house or just step outside for 20 minutes to get some sun, see some nature, and breathe fresh air. I schedule short dinners and happy hours with family and friends not to lose touch with my social life (vital for overall mental health!).
During my lunches on the weekdays, I really make an effort for even 10 minutes to step outside and go for a walk. I write poetry before bed for self-expression and my own form of journaling.
I may not have the luxury of playing my violin as often as I can, but I incorporate music therapy in my mornings and drives to work to help calm down or build enthusiasm and energy for my day. My pets give me calm and soothing energy when I wind down at night.
And quick 60 minute workouts at the gym on my drive home from work is the way I get some weight lifting in my week.
So you have to be adaptable and learn different ways of incorporating healthy habits, even with a hectic schedule, as best as you can. You have to make a conscious effort to do it because you can absolutely get stuck in a rut and just stress all the time and not take care of yourself, but you have to incorporate self-care.
If you want to run a successful business, you have to make sure you’re healthy first because if you’re not going to be healthy, your business will not be healthy either, so that’s how I approach it.
AHW: Thanks again so much for joining us.
Are there any websites, services, or products you’d like to share with the AltHealthWorks audience, and if so, where they can learn more about what you offer?
A: For more information, please visit www.briosmiles.com
“Like” Dr. Jahan & Brio Dental on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Brio.Smiles