Stepping forward into growth

2016 08 22 14 15 49 958 Danenberg Alvin 400

Many quotes have been attributed to Abraham Maslow, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. But one, in particular, is significantly relevant in today's world of healthcare.

"You will either step forward into growth or back into safety," Maslow said. Why is this so relevant today? I'm glad you asked.


As a periodontist, my training was conventional. That means that I was educated to believe that bacteria caused dental diseases (periodontal disease and tooth decay) and that these bacteria must be destroyed to treat the disease.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS.Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

However, students of dentistry were never taught about potential connections between the health of the gut, the strength of the immune system, and the influence of environmental toxic elements and the progression of dental diseases. The fact that periodontal disease has been advancing as an epidemic among U.S. adults is proof that current treatment leaves much to be desired.

In dental school and then later obtaining my periodontology training, my colleagues and I learned that dental plaque needed to be removed by any means possible. I now challenge that idea.

Dental plaque is the film of bacteria that builds up and surrounds the teeth at their gum margins. However, studies now seem to suggest that dental plaque is healthy and serves a biological purpose, that is, until this dental plaque becomes pathogenic.

Dentists, as rebuilders of a healthy mouth, were taught to repair the damage that these bacteria caused in the mouth. Certainly, repairing the destruction that periodontal disease and tooth decay caused was critical then and is still critical today. I would not want it any other way. However, if the real origin of disease is not addressed, we as mouth specialists will continue to repair damage without ever stopping the progression of dental diseases.

I believe that a better way to repair the damage requires us, as healthcare professionals, to understand, uncover, and treat the underlying influences of chronic disease. Oral health diseases such as periodontitis and others are chronic diseases.

Underlying causes

“A better way to repair the damage requires us, as healthcare professionals, to understand, uncover, and treat the underlying influences of chronic disease.”

If underlying causes of disease are not addressed, and if a patient's cells are not repaired to sustain optimal function, then we as healthcare professionals are falling "back to safety" to the detriment of the health of our society and our patients. For instance, the health of the gut and the health of cells' mitochondria are areas that must be investigated. Supporting our immune system and eliminating toxic substances in our immediate environment also must be considered.

I recently spoke about mercury fillings with the head of the department of restorative dentistry at a mainstream dental school in the U.S. He told me that dental students currently are being taught how to place mercury fillings in teeth.

I asked him, "Why?"

This educator told me that there has never been any study showing that mercury fillings in the mouth have caused any damage to the body. His statement blew me away. This is the battle we, who are trying to "step forward into growth," are challenged to wage in the healthcare training and delivery of treatment in our country.

My effort is to educate everyone and anyone who wants to listen. I teach my patients who have active periodontal disease the real causes of their oral infection.

Initially, disease must be stopped. Conventional treatment addressing the unhealthy dental plaque is important. But, it is more important for patients to learn the changes they need to make moving forward. Improving gut health and overall lifestyles will support dental health as well as overall health.

A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. appreciates the opportunity to reprint it. His book Crazy-Good Living from Elektra Press is available here.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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