From hygienist to chiropractor to dental nutrition Web site director ... Elizabeth Walker has seen health and wellness from some very different perspectives. Walker began her health career in dental hygiene. But a fateful encounter with a patient changed her career - and her life - forever.
“I started my health career as a dental hygienist in 1974,” she said. “Just one year later I had a patient who was a chiropractor. He challenged some of my knowledge and beliefs about health. I grew up as the sickliest member of my family and believed I had no control over the frequent upper respiratory infections that had been with me my entire life. He inspired me to change my diet, take nutritional supplements, and try chiropractic adjustments to enhance the overall function of my nervous system. I was so astounded by the turnaround in my health that I decided that this was the health care of the future. I started taking my prerequisites and entered chiropractic college in 1979.”
Dr. Walker also began to feed her hunger for nutrition information by studying research performed by progressive dentists and physicians.
“I studied the work of some dentists who had done nutrition research such as Weston Price, DDS, who studied primitive tribes in the 1930s to correlate diet and incidence of caries, perio, and malocclusion. Another important mentor was Emanuel Cheraskin, MD, DMD, who wrote more than 800 papers and books while doing research at the University of Alabama’s Department of Nutrition.”
Dr. Walker graduated at the top of her class and practiced chiropractic medicine in Kansas City, Mo., for 16 years before moving to Colorado. After struggling with the insurance reimbursement industry in Colorado, she re-honed her dental hygiene skills at the University of Colorado and worked as both chiropractor and hygienist part time. After a few years, she chose to devote her working hours completely to hygiene and returned to full-time practice. But her passion for sharing health and wellness information never waned.
“Teaching and writing are my biggest passions,“ she said. “I have always had a sense that I was supposed to reach a larger audience with my knowledge than I can accomplish in the confines of any private practice, whether it be chiropractic or dental. As dental hygienists, we are limited by the parameters of care that our dentists and dental state boards allow us to teach.”
Rather than accept these limitations, Dr. Walker got creative. She combined her health-care knowledge in new ways and launched the Web site dentalnutrients.com.
“The Web site came about when one of my nutrition sales representatives asked me to write some nutrition protocols for dentistry so she could have something to educate dentists. I decided to publish explanations for my protocols on a Web site to start a dialogue on how the knowledge I have used to treat chronic diseases for the past 20 years could apply to conditions we treat in dentistry. After all, it’s the same body, and the oral cavity often shows the first sign of trouble with many chronic systemic diseases. Since some of this knowledge is beyond the scope of hygienists, it is a good referral resource for their clients.”
Dr. Walker thinks the dental profession is in a unique position when it comes to noticing subtle changes that can affect a patient’s overall health.
“Dentistry is a unique profession where we have direct access to some of the most biologically active tissue in the human body. Our teeth and gingiva mirror the general health of the entire human body, especially the digestive tract and the immune system. Nowhere are nutritional deficiencies so obvious. I predict a day when dental offices will ask their clients not only for a list of their medications, but also a copy of their most recent lab tests. We already know that lab markers for inflammation have clinical relevance in the treatment of periodontal disease.”
Dr. Walker suggests that paying attention to subtle cues can clue dental professionals into asking patients about their symptoms.
”Signs and symptoms are the language of disease. They are warning signs of dysfunction. If we do not heed their warnings, the disease process will progress and show up as more severe health problems that are often difficult to reverse. Nobody just wakes up one day with type 2 diabetes. If we notice that our clients are taking medications for high blood pressure and high triglycerides and have a waistline bigger than their hips, we can guess that they are prediabetic. Yet many of our clients do not know this. It’s much easier to reverse diabetes before the fasting blood sugar goes over 125.”
Dr. Walker says that many of these symptoms relate to nutritional deficiencies and can often be resolved by dietary changes and nutritional supplementation.
“Nutrition is at the heart of prevention and treatment of disease. Some diseases require medications, but drugs alone will never reach the level of success that drugs plus core nutrition and specific targeted supplementation will achieve. Type 2 diabetes is a highly reversible disease if people will clean up their diet, take supplements, and get daily exercise. Many people taking medications for diabetes can get off their medications (with the help of their doctor) when they improve their nutrition and lifestyle. No chronic disease process such as periodontal disease can ever reach its maximum resolution without an inquiry into the diet and lifestyle habits of the client. A poor diet will never produce an optimally functioning human being, ever.”
By teaching patients simple principles of healthy eating, Dr. Walker believes we can help undo the brainwashing of advertisers about what is healthy eating and what isn’t. We can also help patients select vitamins and other supplements if we keep it simple. Supplements can be difficult to select when there are so many different kinds, brands, varying strengths, and effects. We can help our patients not feel overwhelmed by being practical.
“If everyone used a good quality multivitamin and at least fish oil, the incidence of all diseases would decrease dramatically. This is simple, practical advice we can give to everyone. Plus, recommending a multivitamin was a directive from the AMA in recent years as a way to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.”
Dr. Walker calls her approach “Simple core principles for healthy living.” These include eating an optimal diet 90 percent of the time, getting adequate sleep, exercise, being involved in healthy relationships, and stress reduction using meditation, yoga, or some other form of stretching and relaxation.
Dr. Walker has tips for hygienists who would like to offer more nutritional counseling to their patients at chairside.
“Hygienists should use the appointment to focus on their clients’ oral abnormalities and strive to figure out the causes. It really is an exciting way to practice when we play detective and figure out ways to help people. Sometimes I’ll just say to clients, ‘Why do you think you are getting so many cavities (or not making progress on your periodontal problems)?’ Often they will tell me risk factors I have not even considered. Every doctor is taught in his/her training that 90 percent of the diagnosis comes from the history. Ask lots of questions!”
Dr. Walker also believes that preventing hygiene burnout can be from a shift in attitude: make recall appointments learning opportunities instead of social visits.
“A hygienist who treats his/her appointments as social visits will burn out very quickly. You would not believe how many of my clients have never been shown how to use floss, nor has a dental professional ever asked them to demonstrate how they are using floss. They really appreciate when you show them simple ways to tweak their technique to get better results. Clients are weary of getting yelled at. They want concrete solutions.”Dr. Elizabeth Walker has also authored a book, Conquer Fatigue in 30 Days. Born out of her vast nutrition knowledge, the book offers readers the chance to understand the big picture of how nutrition hurts or enhances overall health.
“During my years as a chiropractor and acupuncturist, I took more than 100 hours of continuing education EVERY year to study nutrition, metabolism, chronic diseases, laboratory diagnosis, and Oriental medicine. With all of that knowledge, I had much to teach my clients, so I gave hundreds of health lectures. Plus, with new clients I would often spend 90 minutes on the first visit teaching them what their symptoms meant and how their diet and lifestyle were impacting their condition. Since fatigue is one of the initial symptoms of every chronic disease, I wrote Conquer Fatigue in 30 Days as a way to put all of my health lectures and information in one place that clients could digest at their own pace. It really saved time in my client interviews.”
For more information, visit www.dentalnutrients.com.