Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book review: Dental herbalism – Natural therapies for the mouth

Book Review

British Dental Journal 218, 270 (2015)
Published online: 13 March 2015 | doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2015.161

Book review: Dental herbalism – Natural therapies for the mouth

S. Conroy
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  • L. M. Alexander, & L. A. Straub-Bruce
  • Healing Arts Press: 442 pp. £11.77
With a shift of focus in healthcare towards a holistic approach it falls on us, as dental professionals, to familiarise ourselves with complementary techniques, so as to better advise our patients of the options with regards to their oral health.
Part one of this easy-to-read guide of all things herbal explores the anatomy of the head and neck, providing a guide to the oral cavity and an introduction to the dental team. It establishes the importance of prevention, including plaque control and diet advice, and this is a recurrent theme throughout the book.
Part two explores the oral cavity's journey from infancy to old age, with 49 common conditions that may be encountered along the way, reminding the reader of the importance of attending their dentist, and the dangers of self-diagnosis.
Part three is a whirlwind tour of everything herbal, profiling 41 herbs that the authors feel should be integral to a herbalist's 'material medica'. It provides properties, indications, cautions and preparations, and puts the herbs into action, explaining how they can be applied in different situations.
The book closes with an overview of general issues affecting oral health and examines the link between oral health and systemic disease. It controversially includes a summary of 18 contentious issues that affect oral health, with fluoride and amalgam noticeable mentions. The authors highlight this is an area they had difficulty in writing, and remind the reader that health-related decisions are always a personal choice.
The book implores safety and aims not to replace professional care or provide diagnoses. It reminds readers that although herbs may often act as excellent symptom alleviators, they are rarely curative, and so must be used only in support of conventional dental treatment.
Dental herbalism undoubtedly provides sound basic knowledge for herbalists and for dental professionals exploring complementary therapies, however, I would advise caution in recommending this book to patients as I feel aspects may challenge and contradict our professional advice. With regards to fluoride, although not condemning its use, it in no way highlights its importance in caries prevention, and, even with the safety warnings in 'Dental Herbalism', I still worry patients may potentially delay seeking treatment and the correct diagnosis.