By Jewel Edwards
Felix Liao, D.D.S, is not a dentist. He is a whole mouth doctor. The holistic practitioner sees thousands of patients in his pristine office in Falls Church, Va. and performs various treatments, some of which push the borders of traditional dentistry, such as mercury filling removal and jaw expansion. All procedures focus on the health of the entire mouth — and by extension, the entire body.
“Focusing on a mouth that is structurally correct is something unique that I do,” Liao, 62, says. Because of this focus on whole mouth health, Liao treats afflictions that typical dentists, or tooth doctors, typically don’t, like sleep apnea, and performs unconventional procedures, such as jaw widening.
Liao says that the concept of whole mouth health is his idea — his “baby” — and plans to publish a book soon on the subject detailing his holistic methods, theories, and practices. For now he maintains his own blog through which he educates his patients on how the mouth works in tandem with other parts of the body and how it functions as the source of a person’s optimal, or poor, health.
“The mouth is the gateway to internal health,” Liao says. “The Chinese have a saying that disaster exits by the mouth and disease enters by the mouth.”
Nearly four out of 10 adults in the U.S. use some form of complementary or alternative medicine and Liao says that many of his patients come to him because they are aware of alternative treatments and would like to explore their options through oral healthcare.
Linda Cevasco, 71, began seeing Liao in 2006 after being diagnosed with breast cancer to remove her mercury fillings, which are considered toxic among members of the holistic health community. “I liked Dr. Liao’s approach and his openness to treatments other than pharmaceuticals,” says Cevasco, who recently was deemed free and clear of all cancer. Before visiting Liao, she had been seeing a holistic chiropractor for six years. “I would like [Western dentistry] to be more open to other forms of treatment as well.”
Liao migrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1967 and later underwent the standard four years of training necessary to become a traditional dentist. He then decided to teach himself holistic practices, combining traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and his knowledge of physiology with dentistry, because his interest in fitness led him to believe that there was something missing from his traditional instruction. According to Liao, his practice goes beyond the piecemeal approach of traditional healthcare.
Though he emphasizes alternative treatment, Liao’s methods are modern – he uses CT scans and advanced imaging techniques to diagnose his patients, and often refers them to doctors who can perform specialized services in collaboration with him, such as chiropractors.
Both Liao and Mark McClure, D.D.S, one of the founding partners of the National Integrative Health Associates (NIHA), also encourage their patients to fill their diets with nutrient-dense organic foods to supplement the treatment they receive. “Food is preventative medicine, not entertainment,” says Liao.
According to McClure, who has been practicing holistic dentistry for 38 years, about 10,000 patients visit NIHA to receive treatment on all of the aspects of healthcare that affect the neurological system at the practice, which blends the best of traditional and homeopathic healthcare. “We wanted to be able to blend the different [medical] professions to get at the root causes of diseases,” he says of what compelled him and five other health practitioners to found NIHA 18 years ago. Today, 23 medical practitioners occupy the practice’s spacious offices in Friendship Heights. Five are holistic dentists who treat mercury removal, jawbone cavitations, and sleep apnea among other ailments.
Like Liao, the medical practitioners at NIHA place an emphases on treating the root causes of illness so that the body might heal itself and restore its natural function.
Patients typically come to Liao and McClure’s practices while in the throes of crisis or while on a quest for total body wellness.
Serena Satcher, 49, a physician who also practices holistic and integrative medicine, began to see Liao after enduring excruciating back pain, problems with her bite, and snoring. Six months after beginning treatment with Liao, Satcher’s spine began to adjust itself, her back pain disappeared, her bite has been corrected, and her snoring has ceased, all outcomes not typically produced by the work of a dentist.
“I think it’s incredible,” Satcher says. She now sleeps much better and dreams, a pleasure that she rarely experienced before treatment. “His methods are very forward-thinking and futuristic. Ground breaking,” she praised Liao.
A chiropractor for 16 years, Celeste Krawchuk says she appreciates the treatment she receives at NIHA because the physicians do what she does. “They look at the whole body, not just the symptom, in order to get me healthy.” Krawchuck drives two hours from Winchester, Va. for her appointment at NIHA and says that metropolitan area needs more services like theirs.
As their patients readily testify, Liao’s and McClure’s approach to mouth health has many far-reaching benefits. As Liao puts it, “The holistic mouth doctor’s office is the starting point to whole body health, and his chair should be a source of healing, rather than suffering.”