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Complementary and Alternative Medicine Techniques Available for Dentistry (AGD 130)

Presenter: Esther K. Andrews, CDA, RDA, RDH, MA


Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a set of procedures considered to be outside the practice of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine procedures are performed by medical doctors and other healthcare professionals; they are also called allopathy, Western, orthodox, or regular medicine and biomedicine. Allopathy is further defined as the use of antagonists to treat disease or abnormal conditions. Allopathy, or conventional medicine, uses antibiotics toxic to a microorganism to kill it, or provides a vitamin to treat a vitamin deficiency.

Complementary medicine procedures are used in conjunction with conventional medicine procedures. Alternative medicine procedures are used in place of conventional medicine procedures. When CAM therapies are used with conventional medicine it is called Integrative Medicine.

Conventional Dentistry is also called traditional or fee for service dentistry, which means every diagnosis has a corresponding diagnostic and procedural insurance code. In dentistry, conventional procedures are performed by dentists and allied oral healthcare professionals. A dental example of a complementary medicine procedure is using aromatherapy before, during or after dental procedures. An example of an alternative medicine procedure is using hypnosis instead of drugs or medication for pain/anxiety control.

CAM seeks to treat the patient in a holistic fashion, meaning treating the individual as a whole entity. The word holistic is of Greek origin and means “relating to the whole.” Holistic dentistry considers all things related to the patient. While some holistic procedures seem unorthodox to mainstream dentistry, new research and patient testimonials may prove their safety and effectiveness, eventually allowing their adoption into the conventional oral healthcare practice standard of care. Dentists who use nontraditional or CAM procedures for patient care may be referred to as alternative or holistic dentists. Any dental procedure performed on the patient that doesn’t have an associated American Dental Association (ADA) diagnosis or procedure insurance code is considered nontraditional treatment. Because dentists have a legal duty to use standard dental treatments, additional written informed consent must be obtained from the patient.

Because of increasing public use and demand of CAM, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine agency (NCCAM) to study CAM using scientific methodology and to inform the public. CAM procedures are frequently used when a patient with a chronic health problem hasn’t responded well to conventional treatment. These conditions include chronic pain, colds and flu, anxiety and depression, gastrointestinal disorders, and sleep disorders. The most common condition treated using CAM is musculoskeletal pain. CAM practitioners that help conventional and holistic dentists include chiropractors, pharmacists, acupuncturists, acupressurists, massage therapists, and nutritionists.


Esther Andrews earned a Master of Arts from Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI; an Associates of Applied Arts and Science from Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, MI; and a Bachelor of Science and Associates of Applied Science from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. Currently she practices dental hygiene in Chicago. Her newest textbook, titled Practice Management for Dental Hygienists was published by Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins in Baltimore, MD. Honors and awards bestowed include:

• 2005 Dental Assisting National Board Achievement for 30 year continuous Certification
• 2004 American Dental Assistants Association Journal Award
• 2000 Life membership in the American Dental Assistants Association.

She is a frequent contributor to the Journal.


Upon completion of this course the dental professional should be able to:
• Define Complementary and Alternative Medicine terminology.
• Recognize that patients may choose complementary and alternative procedures in addition to conventional dentistry.
• Explain the alternative medical systems of homeopathy and naturopathy, Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.
• Consider mind-body interventions used to enhance treatment, such as support groups, meditation, prayer, art, music, dance, imagery, relaxation, biofeedback, hypnosis and paranormal health remedies.
• Conceptualize how substances found in nature, such as herbs, food, vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements, and natural therapies,are used for biologically based therapy.
• Discuss manipulative and body based methods of physical therapy, chiropractory or massage therapy.
• Describe energy therapies.


The ADAA has an obligation to disseminate knowledge in the field of dentistry.  Sponsorship of a continuing education program by the ADAA does not necessarily imply endorsement of a particular philosophy, product or technique.

The ADAA cautions participants taking this course on the hazards of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into their practices.

Credits earned upon completion of the course may be used to meet DANB’s Recertification Requirements.


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