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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

The Holistic Dentist

Dec 27, 2019 11:50AM ● By Scott Chase
By the time Dr. Susan Welch made the official turn from conventional to holistic dentistry, she'd been studying the whole-body approach to dentistry for 10 years. She’d practiced dentistry for almost seven years in the U.S. Air Force and then worked for another dentist before buying Wright Parkway Dental Center, in Fort Walton Beach, in 2004. Around that time, she began learning about structural care and studying around holistic practitioners. She was curious about what they were telling her. 

It took open-mindedness and no small degree of humility, Welch says, to admit that some treatments she'd been taught were safe—such as mercury amalgam fillings—could endanger her patients' health.

"It was challenging for me to accept that the mercury in fillings that I'd been putting it in people’s teeth for a number of years was in question for its safety; I had it in my own mouth," she says. "But you have to unlearn to relearn. You have a responsibility, in gaining knowledge, to then apply it."

In applying that knowledge, she traded an ethical challenge for a financial one. She discovered that many insurance plans won’t fully compensate dentists for alternative materials such as composite fillings. 

While that conundrum keeps many doctors from venturing beyond the confines of traditional dentistry, it evoked the opposite response from Welch. In 2011, she started the transition of her dental practice to a holistic practice.

"At that point in my professional development, it really became about taking care of the human body," she says. "If you take good care of people, the money takes care of itself."

Fighting Gum Disease

As a holistic dentist, Welch identifies and treats anything in the mouth—whether it's a mercury filling or gum disease—that could compromise overall health.

A checkup at Wright Parkway Dental Center begins with a detailed inspection of the mouth and x-rays for indications of tooth decay, gingivitis or periodontal disease. Welch says bleeding gums are a red flag, worrisome not just because they indicate bacterial inflammation, but because they give oral bacteria a path to invade the body.

Since 2013, she has adopted Dr. Lisa Samaha’s approach to diagnosing and treating periodontal disease, using plaque samples from the patient and examining them microscopically for infectious bacteria. If those types are present along with signs of periodontal disease, she uses a saliva test to identify the bacteria, as certain types are associated with certain chronic conditions.

"When you do individualized testing, it's amazing how you can tie in the patients’ physical ailments with their mouth ailments,” she says. “Some people already have cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive issues or a history of cancer."

Managing gum disease requires treatment beyond the mechanical cleaning performed by a hygienist, Welch says. For patient with an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, Welch might prescribe antibiotics specific to those pathogens. She also uses a C02 laser to kill bacteria and facilitate healing of inflamed tissue. Unlike gingivitis, full-blown periodontal disease is not curable, so staying on top of bacterial growth is paramount, she says.

She also addresses disease from the nutritional angle, addressing any deficiencies that could weaken a patient's resistance to disease.

"The body will heal itself if you give it what it needs, the building blocks, which is nutrition,” she explains.

When patients might benefit from an alternative treatment that she doesn’t offer, Welch refers them to providers she trusts.

"I may not have everything at my disposal right now, but I have knowledge of it and know where to send people if I can't do it myself," she says. “To me, that’s part of being a smart, well-rounded clinician."

Other Whole-Body Solutions

Other "above-the-neck" conditions can have whole-body implications, and Welch tackles those too. She’s become a local expert on dental sleep medicine and temporomandibular joint [TMJ) disorders, which can affect overall health and quality of life.

"The mouth is the window to the body," she says. "The evolution of holistic and whole-body oral health care is a journey, and we are growing in this paradigm every day.”

Location: 106 Wright Pkwy. SW, Fort Walton Beach, FL. For appointments, call 850- 243-1534. For more information, visit

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