There’s a growing trend in orthodontic care: the “holistic orthodontist.”

As an orthodontist myself, one who does not use the “holistic” label, I want to clear up some confusion about what it means to be  “holistic orthodontist.” You may have heard this term and wondered what “holistic orthodontics” is and if ti’s right for you. Read on to learn more about what’s real — and what’s a myth.

Holistic Myth: “Holistic Orthodontics” Means the Same Thing to Every Orthodontist

Holistic Bust: The Term is Not Defined or Regulated

I put “holistic orthodontics” in quotation marks because the term is not one that’s widely defined by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) or any other authoritative body. While an orthodontist is someone who has completed dental school and an orthodontics residency, adding the word “holistic” in front of it doesn’t mean anything in particular. It’s essentially a marketing term that some orthodontists use to attract certain clients, and it can mean different things to each person. Same with “integrative” or “functional,” two other terms that are growing in popularity.

Holistic Myth: Only Holistic Orthodontists Look at Whole Body-Oral Health Connection

Holistic Bust: ‘Regular’ Orthodontists Understand This Vital Connection, Too

Holistic orthodontists typically tout their focus on whole body health. They stress the fact that they consider not just the alignment of teeth, but also the underlying jaw, bone, and anatomy of the face, and how that affects the whole body. They understand how orthodontic care can help with issues like sleep apnea, snoring, temporomandibular joint disorders, headaches, and other seemingly unrelated symptoms.

Guess what — ‘regular’ orthodontists do this, too! Our training is in this area, and part of what separates us from family dentists is our deep knowledge on how the mouth and surrounding anatomy connect to the rest of the body. Some orthodontists specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea, TMD, and other disorders, whether they call themselves “holistic” or not. If these are issues you want treated, it’s best to look for experience and expertise rather than labels.

Holistic Myth: Only Holistic Orthodontists Try to Avoid Extractions

Holistic Bust: More and More Orthodontists Avoid Extractions Whenever Possible

For many years, removing teeth in order to have “room” in the mouth to straighten teeth was a very common practice in orthodontics; by some estimates, up to 75% of orthodontic cases involved an extraction.

But these days, as technology and treatment options have improved, there’s less of a need to remove teeth. Many orthodontists, not just “holistic” ones, consider extraction a last resort. In my practice, for instance, extractions are necessary in less than 1% of cases. I even recommend patients whose orthodontist suggests having a tooth permanently removed to get a second opinion.

Holistic Myth: “Holistic Orthodontists” Are Green

Holistic Bust: “Holistic” Is Not The Same As “Green”

There’s an assumption that a holistic orthodontist will also be one who cares about the environment, and that may often be the case, but they are not one and the same. Furthermore, many regular orthodontists consider themselves “green.”

Again, there’s no standard definition for this, so it can take on many forms, including how green the office is in terms of energy efficiency, how equipment and materials are sourced and disposed of or recycled, what types of materials are used in treatment, and more. If these things are important to you, ask your current or prospective orthodontist in what ways their office is green. They may not advertise it on their website, but it may be just as important to them as it is to you.

Is a “Holistic Orthodontist” Right for You?

I’m not trying to “bust” any orthodontists who call themselves “holistic,” I just want patients to understand what that term actually means. No one should jeopardize their dental care based on false assumptions. In the end, what really matters is finding an orthodontist whose education, experience, and practice you like and trust, whether they do or don’t call themselves “holistic.” Remember, there was a long while where the label ‘fat free’ implied healthier. Now we know these products are often not healthy and the label was simply a way to generate more sales. When looking into orthodontics, be sure to do your homework.