As individuals achieve a heightened sense of awareness for improving their overall health, they turn to alternative therapies either instead of or in addition to traditional medications and treatments. Natural healing has been a valid form of treatment for centuries. It is the quackery, abuse and misuse of natural substances that may be hindering the development of alternative therapies as an acceptable means of treating disease. Some of what is alternative today may become conventional tomorrow. After all, is it so inconceivable that Nature could have created substances that are capable of achieving the same results that have been developed by modern science? Keep in mind that there are a number of western medicines that have been derived from natural substances. In 2735 BC, a Chinese emperor recommended an extract from the Ma Huang plant (known as ephedra in the western world) as treatment for respiratory illness. Today the chemical ephedrine is extracted from the plant and used as decongestants (pseudoephedrine). Codeine, derived from opium, has long been used as an analgesic and cough suppressant. Other plant-derived drugs include digitalis (a heart strengthener) and Vincristine (an anti-tumor drug).
Studies have found that a third of the people polled admitted to using at least one alternative within the past year. Dental health care providers should have the following questions on their medical/drug history form: “Are you currently taking any herbal or natural homeopathic remedies?” and “if so, are you under the supervision of an alternative therapist?” If these questions are not one of the questions on the form, then please make sure to tell your dentist (and other doctors) exactly what you are taking.
It has been proven in studies that when placing gauze soaked in Aloe Vera gel or liquid over an extraction site or periodontal surgical site, the post-operative pain, swelling and bleeding are significantly reduced. Aloe Vera (known by the Egyptians as “The Plant of Immortality”) has been used internally and externally since at least 400 BC. It has been confirmed by clinical research that Aloe Vera: (1) anesthetizes tissue, (2) kills bacteria (3) kills viruses, (4) kills fungi, (5) helps stop bleeding, (6) is an antipyretic (reduces heat), (7) is an anti-inflammatory, (8) is a capillary dilator, (10) is an enhancer of cell growth, and (11) is a tissue moisturizer. Aloe Vera has been shown to treat systemic oral lichen planus, angular chelitis (irritations around the corners of the mouth), dry lips and herpes.
In addition to Aloe Vera, there are some herbal remedies that can suppress inflammation with fewer side effects than currently available pharmaceuticals. Echinacea has gained popularity in the United States, being hailed by some to be an immune system “booster”, an antimicrobial agent, and an antiviral agent. Goldenseal has been used for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, and immune-strengthening properties. Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) is a bioflavenoid complex that possesses anti-inflammatory activities and inhibits the release of certain compounds that influence inflammation. Other anti-inflammatory agents include Calendula, Bloodroot, Wild yam, Licorice, Fenugreek and Figwort.
When taken appropriately, herbal and homeopathic remedies can have a wonderful healing effect on the body. Like many western drugs, herbal remedies have potential risks, side effects, and drug interactions that can interfere with traditional western medicines and affect the safe practice of dentistry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently regulates prescription and over-the-counter drugs but not herbal preparations. As a result, it is critical that the dental profession continue to increase its level of understanding and education about these alternative medications and treatments so that these new generations of dental patients are treated in a safe and effective manner.
It has been well stated that the individual who successfully counters infections without antibiotics probably utilizes his/her immune system more appropriately than he/she would otherwise. While antibiotics definitely have their place, they are over-used, and over prescribed. In the presence of an acute infection or as a prophylactic measure to prevent against bacterial endocarditis, for those who are susceptible, it is of the utmost importance. We are, however, living in a society where the average doctor prescribes more antibiotics than are necessary; 50% of the time they may not even be required.
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