Holistic vs. Specialization

When looking for somebody to do a job for you, it seems obvious to look for somebody who has done this kind of task several times over and knows exactly what needs to be done. In other words, you are looking for a specialist. You would expect him to be more expensive, but you would expect that as he will be done faster and you can enjoy the results of his job faster.

On the other hand, if you have a job to be done that is unique and there is no one with that specific skill level, who will you be looking for? A person who has done something in the past not quite what you need but a bit similar, or would you look for somebody who has the widest of training and is thus able to understand and adjust to any new and unique situation?

But let's first, before we go into the meat of the subject, look at some definitions, so that we all agree on what we are talking about.




  1. incorporating the concept of holism, or the idea that the whole is more than merely the sum of its parts, in theory, or practice:
    holistic psychology.
  2. Medicine/Medical. identifying with principles of holism in a system of therapeutics, especially one considered outside the mainstream of scientific medicine, as naturopathy or chiropractic, and often involving nutritional measures:
    holistic medicine.




  1. the act of specializing, or pursuing a particular line of study or work: Medical students with high student loans often feel driven into specialization.
  2. Biology. the adaptation of an organism or organ to a special function or environment: Basic biology suggests the selective pressures leading to convergent evolutionary specialization among desert-dwelling species.
  3. the act of being restricted to some specific, or the act of becoming specialized.

It should not come as a surprise that we are a bit biased towards holistic treatments – after all – this is is About Holistic Dentistry, but we hope that this is no baseless bias but one that founded on reason.

Let's first look at complexities of a system.

If you need a contractor to install a new kitchen for you, it is most likely best to hire one who is a specialist for kitchens. The sum of tasks to remodel a house is rather limited: There are walls to build, ceilings to finish and walls to paint. There are cabinets to install and there is electrical and plumbing to install. The way the ceiling in a bedroom is finished will not have much effect on where to install the refrigerator in the kitchen.

But if we getting into the area of the human body, the complexities and interactions of systems increase dramatically. The encounter with a mean boss might have some big effect on the well-being of the digestive tract – or it might have none at all.

Therefore an observed symptom might be something that is well known and understood to be handled by a practitioner who has encountered this symptom many times, but it also might be unique and never been seen before.

I like to compare this to searches on Google: half of all queries that Google sees have been entered before, but that also means that the other half of all queries are brand new. Google uses artificial intelligence to understand and answer those question – but when humans are involved we need the real intelligence of a practitioner who is not restricted to a specialized area or practice.

Sure, there are probably many situations and cases in a dental practice that are routine – similar to the first half of Google questions that have been asked before – but only the trained eye of a practitioner who looks at the person as a whole, will even notice when there is some factor that is not routine. It might be something apparently insignificant, like a little girl that was normally cheerful during her visits, that now seems to be sad. It might be something very simple and not related to the dental visit, for example, that her father was not there to say goodbye before they left for the dentist. 

But even such a small and apparently insignificant situation can be pretty detrimental. A dentist, who treats his patients holistically, has probably invested a fair amount of time building rapport with this little patient. If he now ignores that little upset and goes to treat his little patient, he might reduce this rapport slightly and the next visit will be a bit less enjoyable for the little patient, which can lead, if repeated, to an adult patient who does not like to go to the dentist.

A specialist for – let's say – gum surgery, might not be trained to notice those little indicators. He might tread the gums perfectly, but he might end up with a patient who despite the successful treatment, might let necessary treatments slide simply because he somehow does not like the dentist.

Now, I don't want to create the impression that we do not need a specialist – quite to the contrary. There are now so many sophisticated procedures in medicine and dentistry that one person alone could not learn them all. In these circumstances, the holistic dentist will still oversee the treatment of the patient, but employ the help of a specialist.

To summarize the question what is better – holism or specialization – the answer would be both, as long as each is employed in the correct circumstances. 

With the holistic dentist overseeing the case and delegating to a specialist when necessary.

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