When he sees where his new patients are coming from, Dr. Lance Heppler notices a change‑‑for the good. Lance Heppler, DMD, FAGD, calls his practice “Dental Designs.” Located in southeast Vancouver, WA, it is one of the few holistic dental practices in the Portland area, offering everything patients expect in family dentistry‑‑except exposure to mercury.
More than 1500 names show up on an internet search for dentists with Portland addresses. Of those, “… there are seven or eight dentists like me,” Heppler estimates. Patients come from as far away as Albany to the south, and Centralia to the north.
Two years ago, about 30 to 40 percent of his new patients came specifically because Dental Designs was a mercury-free practice. Some of them were sick from exposure to mercury. Some of them intended not to risk any exposure to mercury, ever. Recently, that number has climbed to about 70 percent. New patients, overwhelmingly, are coming to Dental Designs specifically for holistic dentistry. The referral grapevine is working well for people who suffer from mercury exposure, Heppler surmises, and patients are becoming more educated about choosing the dentist, and the care, that will work best in the long term. To keep up with demand, Heppler has added another dentist to the staff at Dental Designs.
Holistic, or Biological, or Mercury-Free Dentistry‑‑all of those terms apply‑‑is still a controversial field. Holistic spokesmen cite evidence about the dangers of traditional dentistry; traditional voices characterize holistic practitioners as new-age kooks. Heppler is in a position to see the bigger picture. He is one of only about 2 percent of American dentists entitled to write the initials FAGD (Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry) after their names, which indicates continuing education verified by rigorous exams. It took him 10 years to earn the FAGD, and he’s familiar with the arguments on all sides of the issue.
The key, he explains, is seeing individual differences. Some people take in heavy metals, which flush out harmlessly. Other people will experience a slow buildup of mercury on peripheral nervous tissue until they start showing symptoms‑‑tremors, depression, fatigue, unclear thinking, chronic pain‑‑that can be misdiagnosed in a variety of ways. Symptoms start adding up somewhere in a patient’s mid-30s, and some patients suffer for years before the problem is diagnosed correctly.
Once a problem is diagnosed, treatment happens in phases. First, the old amalgam fillings are removed. “Getting them out is riskier than putting them in,” Heppler explains, and there’s a strict protocol for removing the fillings without risking further exposure. When the amalgam is gone, patients are referred to a naturopathic physician who can prescribe ways to remove the residual mercury from their bodies.
Of course, the obvious way to deal with toxicity issues is to never risk them in the first place. That’s the point of a holistic dental practice. Most of the patients at Dental Designs aren’t in crisis. Grownups and kids are getting mercury-free fillings, non-metallic bridge- and crownwork, a metal-free approach to straightening teeth and careful attention to individual tolerances for anesthetics and medications. There’s nothing here that’s likely to make anybody sick‑‑not now, and not 30 years down the road.
There are now two more outposts in the Dental Designs practice. Silver Falls Family Dental (SilverFallsFamilyDental.com) is operating in Silverton, Oregon, and Astoria Family Dental (AstoriaOregonDentist.com) is thriving in Astoria. There are full-time dentists in each location, and Dr. Heppler visits once a week. Staff is hand-picked in all locations, and Heppler can’t stop singing their praises. He describes them collectively as gentle, wonderful, smart and understanding. Because of the broader perspective of the Dental Designs practice, they are especially alert to patients’ concerns and questions.
Dr. Lance Heppler’s practice, Dental Designs, is located at 900 SE Chkalov Drive, close to I-205 on the southeast side of Vancouver. The office phone is 360-896-1449, and the website is dentaldesignsvancouver.com.