By Alvin Danenberg, DDS, contributing writer

March 6, 2019 -- What in the world is functional this or functional that?

The term functional medicine is being used throughout the alternative medicine community. And now, there is a new term on the block: functional dentistry.

What if functional dentistry could identify the essential causes of dental diseases -- once and for all?


The adjective functional in functional medicine and functional dentistry attempts to describe the intent of determining the most fundamental underlying causes of disease. Like peeling an onion layer by layer until the hidden core is revealed.

Dr. Alvin Danenberg,
Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

This process should be the starting point for healthcare professionals. Doctors should be looking for the most basic factors that could initiate disease on a cellular level. Their discovery could lead to thinking way out of the box. But currently, functional medicine is outside the mainstream of our healthcare system.

Organized medicine and organized dentistry have not embraced the concept of functional healthcare. Yet, this concept will play a significant role in healthcare going forward because it emphasizes disease prevention and attention to the cellular changes in the manifestation of disease.

Functional dentistry

The essence of functional dentistry is to look at lifestyle, diet, and the environment and their effects on dental diseases. Functional dentistry is starting to evaluate how specific dental procedures may have been a contributing factor in other diseases of the body. Examples include mercury fillings and inappropriately performed root canals.

Most dentists fix broken down teeth and treat infected mouths by repairing the damages resulting from dental diseases and trauma. They may touch on some of the conventionally accepted causes, such as dental plaque and bacteria in the mouth. Conventional dentists may tell their patients to floss more frequently or make some changes in their diets, but those statements don't have much detail.

Functional dentists go much deeper in thought and examination. They still fix the damage done, but they also investigate eating habits, lifestyle habits, and breathing habits. Functional dentists look for airway obstruction, toxic substance exposure, and many other factors that contribute to the breakdown of the teeth, jawbone, soft tissues of the mouth and the gut, and overall immune system. Functional dentists see the body as an integrated human machine, in which anything affecting one part of the body will eventually affect all the other parts.

My approach

One of the factors I emphasize with my patients is their diet. First, I offer them a three-day food journal to complete so I can evaluate their food choices. Then, we go over nutritious foods to eat. Finally, I will suggest some healthier choices to replace unhealthy food choices.

Also, I address their gut microbiome, sleeping and breathing habits, positions of their teeth and tongue, unhealthy biting forces, and toxic materials in their mouth and the environment.

Functional dentists look at the overall body and the environment. They understand the possible connections. They know that we do not live in a vacuum. Sometimes, a team of health professionals is brought together to properly treat the patient. Once the underlying causes are determined, then eliminating these core issues can improve the dental health as well as the overall health outcome for the patient.

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.

Copyright © 2019

To read this and get access to all of the exclusive content on create a free account or sign-in now.

Member Sign In:
MemberID or email address:  
Do you have a password?
No, I want a free membership.
Yes, I have a password:  
Forgot your password?
Sign in using your social networking account:
Sign in using your social networking