By Alvin Danenberg, DDS, contributing writer

February 15, 2017 -- Have you heard the term "functional medicine" floating around the internet? Do you know what it means?

Alvin Danenberg, DDS
Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

Many traditional medical and dental practitioners do not embrace the concepts of functional medicine, but I do. Let me explain how functional medicine could actually benefit your patient's dental health.

I am a traditionally educated periodontist and have been in practice for more than 40 years. Four years ago, I began extensive functional medicine training and subsequently earned the designation of Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. I have found incorporating the concepts of functional medicine with my traditional practice of treating gum disease can enhance the treatment I offer my patients.

What is functional medicine?

So, what is functional medicine? Functional medicine is the science of looking deeper and deeper for the causes of disease and not just managing the symptoms of disease. Everything starts on the cellular level. Since there are approximately 10 trillion human cells and as many as 100 trillion microbial cells in each of us, there is a lot going on. Cells communicate with one another. A breakdown in that communication, for whatever reasons, can lead to improper function down the line -- in the mouth and the entire body.

“I have found incorporating the concepts of functional medicine with my traditional practice of treating gum disease can enhance the treatment I offer my patients.”

In my experience with patients over the years, most have wanted to know the cause of their gum problems. The obvious causes are dental plaque, poor oral hygiene, and unhealthy biting forces on the teeth -- all of which play an important role in the progression of gum disease, and, in certain situations, there may be more to gum disease than these obvious causes.

For example, some patients brush and floss daily but still have bleeding gums. Other patients may see their dentist every six months, but they still are losing their teeth. What's going on here? Could there be deeper problems that have not been identified?

Functional medicine helps me look deeper into the not-so-obvious causes and mechanisms involved with gum diseases, which also may be causing other chronic diseases.

I believe that every patient is an individual and does not just fit into a group statistic. Each person has unique cellular qualities that respond to different things in different ways. My job is to find the individual differences that are causing disease and help my patients become healthier. Specific functional medicine tests may take me a step closer to learning what is going on for that individual.

Since the mouth is just the beginning of the digestive tract that ends at the anus, anything that affects one part of this tube could affect other parts. Various tests can be performed using blood, saliva, urine, stool, and breath to help put the pieces of the puzzle together. Damage to the gut lining, overgrowth of bad bacteria and other microbes, and toxic chemicals interfering with the functions of cells all can be studied by using specific functional testing.

If damage to some of the cells could be traced back to specific offenders, and if those offenders could be removed or corrected, then other cells might heal. Improving the health of individual cells could improve the health of tissues and organ systems. The mouth and the entire body could benefit from discovering the underlying causes.

A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. appreciates the opportunity to reprint it. Future columns will address how dentists can serve their patients and their profession.

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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