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As any parent can attest, finding someone you can trust to take care of your child’s health and well-being can be tough, and as Shahrzad Sami, D.D.S, an integrative pediatric dentist and orthodontist based in Los Angeles says, many dentists may claim to be holistic, but aren’t. “Holistic dentistry has really become sort of a trend,” she says. Like holistic physicians, holistic or biological dentists believe that your teeth are an integral part of your body, and therefore, your overall health. That means that your oral and dental health can actually impact other processes. “[As a holistic dentist] your goal should be to get your patient to the best place he or she can be with his or her body overall,” says Sami. Here are a few questions to ask to see if your dentist’s ideas line up with yours:

What will you cover in the first exam? “Generally, most pediatric dentists take between 3 and 7 minutes to do an exam, and in my opinion it’s impossible to catch everything in 3 to 7 minutes,” says Sami. Some subjects the dentist should cover: The health of baby and permanent teeth, jaw deviation, asymmetry and development, sleep quality and positions, posture, airway and breathing issues, materials he’ll be using, and even the rest of the body. He should also talk to you about your child’s diet, she says. “Not just necessarily sweets, but what your child is eating for each meal, how many fruits and vegetables she eats every day, how much dairy, protein, and carbohydrates—all of these things help us to get a more in-depth look at the child as a whole,” explains Sami.

What types of materials do you use? Some of the big ones to avoid: dental amalgam—a material made of copper, silver, and mercury that’s used in silver dental fillings to repair decayed teeth and has been linked to a host of health and environmental concerns; fluoride—whose use should be avoided when possible, says Sami; and BPA, found in mouth guards, sealants that are applied to cavity-prone areas, and other dental appliances.

What’s your policy on x-rays? While some holistic dentists may avoid taking x-rays entirely, it’s not necessarily better for your child, says Sami. “If I don’t take x-rays before I start a case, I’m just going in blindly and I might miss a lot of things,” she says. “Your dentist should really take more of an individualistic approach—if he takes them every 6 months, regardless of the patient’s history, that’s not beneficial either.” Sami uses a machine that exposes patients to the lowest amount of radiation possible while Pockrass opts for digital x-raying—machines that use a sensor instead of film to capture an image and expose you to 75 to 90 percent less radiation than regular machines.

Do you perform root canals? Commonly used in conventional dentistry, root canal therapy is a process where a decayed or infected tooth is stripped of its nerve and pulp, cleaned of any bacteria, and sealed. Unfortunately, says Sami, the chemicals used to sterilize the tooth and kill the nerve (and surrounding tissue) are toxic, and can actually wind up leaking into the body through the root of the tooth. How your dentist chooses to treat an infected tooth may vary, but a lot of dentists will opt to remove the tooth—and any infection-causing bacteria—entirely, to prevent infection from spreading to other parts of the body.

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