By Gary M. Verigin, DDS, CTN
Last September, I was pleased and honored to be asked to present a 20 minute speech to the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine on how my colleague Ed Arana and I got the idea to form the study group that eventually evolved into that organization.
I had two months to gather my thoughts and memories; two months to condense more than 50 years in dentistry, from my days at the University of Washington Dental School in Seattle through decades of private practice; two months to distill my life’s work and calling into just 20 minutes. I confess, my talk ran a little long, but there was much to share about how and why we brought biological dentistry to where it stands today.
After my talk, past-IABDM president Dr. Bill Glaros surprised me with the first of what’s to become an annual leadership award that will bear my name. Suffice it to say, I was totally overwhelmed by this honor.
The Opening to a New Horizon
Most of my preparation for that day was spent among the books, binders and manual that fill the bookcases and large parts of the floor space of my home office. But there’s also a huge picture window that looks out on our spacious backyard. There’s a beautiful pool and redwoods, lawn and rose bed, dozens of planters that go lush with greenery and flowers from early spring into deep autumn. It’s a wonderful sight to gaze on, whether to clear the mind, focus or reminisce.
My first real introduction to biological dental medicine happened in the summer of 1984, when I attended a conference at Children Shriner’s Hospital in Honolulu. The presenter who convinced me that the traditional dental school education was unsound and harmful was Reinhold Voll (1909-1989), a physician from Plochingen, Germany.
Dr. Voll was assisted by a very capable translator from Chile, Alberto Duque. Local health professionals from several disciplines brought patients to the conference for Dr. Voll to evaluate. Photos and x-rays of their teeth were projected onto a screen as Dr. Voll examined them with the Dermatron, his electro-dermal screening unit. As he did, Duque described which meridians Dr. Voll was measuring, the readings and pertinent remarks.
What Dr. Voll did not do was ask directly about either symptoms or diagnoses. He only examined them with the Dermatron – about 30 minutes per patient – then asked them and their practitioner to leave the auditorium for a while.
Dr. Voll would then discuss his findings, both medically and dentally. He shared his thoughts on what symptoms the patient was experiencing and how the medical establishment would likely diagnose those signs. He then asked the patient and practitioner to return and tell the audience about the dental or medical problems the patient was having. Questions from the audience were encouraged for further clarification and understanding.
Constantly, Voll’s electrodermal findings and subsequent patient information were a perfect match.
I was blown away by this, by how accurately Dr. Voll had assessed each patient. I was totally impressed and astonished at the impact that dental conditions could have on an individual’s systemic health.
At this point, I had been practicing general dentistry for nearly 20 years. I had not been taught how harmful mercury amalgam “silver” fillings, root canal filled teeth, implants and chronic jaw osteitis lesions (“cavitations”) can be. Surely, the dentists who came to hear Dr. Voll speak knew that things like periodontal disease, caries (tooth decay/cavities) and orthopedic/orthodontic misalignments were trouble. How many knew about the rest?
As the conference continued, so did the shaking of my core beliefs. It felt like I was going through some kind of a career midlife crisis!
A System More Than Merely “Broken”
Every day, the media regales us with stories of ever-increasing scientific knowledge and supposed medical “miracles” through new therapies, diagnostic tools and other advanced technologies. Medical professionals are particularly bombarded with hype over the latest drugs to manage symptoms of any type of illness, dysfunction or syndrome you care to name.
One “side effect” they never mention: How drug-driven medicine often distracts the health professional, effectively dulling their sixth sense – the intuitive hunch, the inner eye, the gut feeling that supports the ability to diagnose safely and quickly, even in the most primitive conditions.
Even more disturbing are the “side effects” of these drugs – though accuracy demands we understand they are direct effects, just ones that aren’t desirable in a specific situation. Their drag on health is a powerful reminder that these chemical compounds are inherently noxious.
They’re also part of the reason why we see an increase in faulty diagnoses and therapies – like in the case of a local family I read about not long ago in the newspaper. They had sued Kaiser after repeated ER misdiagnoses that ultimately contributed to her death. They told her she had sciatic nerve pain. She died of sepsis.
Such cases are yet another factor keeping emergency rooms, clinics and hospitals pushing capacity. Practitioners then become more like traffic cops; clinics and hospitals become more like assembly lines. And the vicious cycle continues.
We’re also starting to hear more expressions of disillusionment coming from within the profession – as in cardiologist Dr. Sandeep Jauhar’s recent book Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. “It occurs to me,” he writes,
that my profession is in a sort of midlife crisis of its own. In the last four decades, doctors have lost the special status they used to enjoy. In the mid-twentieth century, at least, physicians were the pillars of any community. They made more money and earned more respect than just about any other type of professional. If you were smart and sincere and ambitious, the top of your class, there was nothing nobler or more rewarding that you could aspire to become. Doctors possessed special knowledge. They owned second homes. They were called upon in times of crisis. They were well-off, caring, and smart, the best kind of people you could know.
Today medicine is just another profession, and doctors have become like everybody else: insecure, discontented, and anxious about the future. In surveys, a majority of doctors express diminished enthusiasm for medicine and say they would discourage a friend or family member from entering the profession. In a 2008 survey of twelve thousand physicians, only 6 percent described their morale as positive.
Reasons for discontent include not having enough time to spend with patients because of paperwork. But Jauhar also hates what one reviewer described as “the assembly-line medicine that makes doctors little more than electronic medical record scribes with the power to instantly order tests and medicines but no time to build relationships.”
Lest you think it’s just his own griping, Jauhar relates similar disillusionment shared by other medical professionals in venues like SERMO, a social networking site for physicians, which presents itself as a virtual doctor’s lounge, where physicians can speak freely and anonymously. Says one cited by Jauhar,
I get too little respect from patients, physician colleagues, and administrators, despite good clinical judgment, hard work, and compassion for my patients. Working up patients in the ER these days involves shotgunning multiple unnecessary tests (everybody gets a CT!) despite the fact that we know they don’t need them, and being aware of the wastefulness of it all really sucks the love out of what you do. I feel like a pawn in a money-making game for hospital administrators. There are so many other ways I could have made my living and been more fulfilled. The sad part is we chose medicine because we thought it was worthwhile and noble, but from what I have seen in my short career, it is a charade.
When a new patient comes to our office, one of the forms we ask them to fill out asks them to describe their reasons for seeking dental care in our office – at whatever length they care to tell us their needs and concerns. Often, this elicits a response like, ‘I can’t believe it!” When we ask what they mean, they explain that the request is so unlike anything they have experienced in a dental or medical practice.
What they typically experience is like what one patient recently described about her first appointment at a new physician’s office:
I went to my physician about two weeks ago for my annual checkup /physical. The nurse took my weight, blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Then the doctor walked in, gave me a 10 second look and greeting and started typing on his computer. I answered a few questions; he typed some more. After that, some clicking and a short speech on the importance of flu shots, but when I said that I read that flu shots this year were only 23% successful, he gave me a quick farewell without answering my question. He only gave me a few seconds of eye contact. He never touched me. He is supposed to be a good doctor. All of this took between 9 and 10 minutes!
My take on this entire situation is that it leaves me sad and wondering if this medical system is far from merely “broken.”
And yes, dentistry is much in the same state…