Having faithfully served thousands of patients in the Northwest Connecticut communities of Kent and Canaan in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains the past 35 years, Dr. Thomas "Tod" Livingstone made the decision just a few years out of dental school to devote himself and his practice to a holistic approach to dentistry.
Driven by his long-held belief that his patients' perfect smile should reflect their overall health, the guiding philosophy driving Livingstone Dental Excellence is simple: to use his treatment and maintenance of their teeth and gums as a foundation for the overall health of their bodies and minds. Two phrases that patients can see on a scroll at the top of his website (www.livingstonedentalexcellence.com) capture the experience of being under his care: "Imagine going to the dentist with a feeling of total trust and comfort" and "Where getting the SMILE you've always wanted reflects your overall health."
After graduating from Farleigh Dickinson University School of Dental Medicine in 1975, Dr. Livingstone spent a few years practicing dentistry the traditional way he was taught in school. Quickly realizing that too many patients came in feeling fine and went home unhappy and hurting made him decide there had to be a better way to practice.
He found out about a New York based newsletter called the Holistic Dental Digest and contacted its editor, Dr. Jerome Mittelman. Dr. Livingstone began receiving the newsletter and learned about nutrition and homeopathic remedies, and became fascinated with studies that showed how administering these to patients led to greater comfort, less pain and little or no swelling. He later befriended a physician in the region who was a certified, UK trained homeopath who shared information on other supplements he could use.
Dr. Livingstone's choice to go the holistic route and approach and incorporate his knowledge of homeopathic treatments completely revolutionized his practice – starting with the complete elimination of mercury-silver (amalgam) fillings by 1980 in favor of totally non-toxic, biocompatible materials. Despite the move over the years towards alternative fillings, he says that about 70 percent of dentists still do fillings the traditional way.
"Mercury-silver fillings were developed in the 1800s as a cheaper alternative for people who could not afford gold filings," he says. "Someone came up with a formula mixing liquid mercury with silver alloy and this became the standard of care. Despite its lower cost, however, dentists just didn't think about the fact that they were essentially putting poison in people's mouths. We made a conscious switch to non toxic fillings, with material that's made out of crushed quartz particles with a binder that holds the particles together."
Dr. Livingstone is proud to be what he calls "the exception to the rule" compared to those who are reluctant to switch from the use of the heavy metal of mercury toxicity. "It just didn't make sense to me," he says. "Why would I pay someone to hurt me? For those who have those fillings, every time they eat or drink anything, hot mercury vaporizes out of the surface of the filling, and goes into their mouths or jawbone, trying to find different paths out. It comes off the tooth in a non-toxic form but in order for your body to process it, it becomes toxic, and that's why people so often get sick."
The first thing Dr. Livingstone does for patients who need fillings is give them a biocompatibility test and a blood serum allergy test – testing them for every dental material currently being manufactured. If he determines that an allergy to their old mercury-silver fillings, he will find the right material to use to replace them.
He is similarly non-traditional when it comes to treating gum disease, finding that he can treat it non-surgically with a combination of high grade disinfecting materials that are bio compatible and nutritional supplements to boost a patient's immune system. Livingstone Dental Excellence has long used the emerging technology of digital X-rays, which reduce radiation exposure.
Laser technology provides both surgical and non-surgical treatment options for gum health, cosmetic and restorative dental needs. Dental alternatives to conventional treatments for sleep apnea and headache can significantly improve many patients' quality of life. These are just some of the many techniques Dr. Livingstone uses to help improve his patients' health and comfort, appearance and function.
"If we're doing surgery on someone, we can use a combination of homeopathic remedies," he says. "Aloe vera jelly, for instance, has shown no instance of post operative pain or swelling. We have herbal tinctures that we can rub on tissues to accelerate the healing process. We also use ozonated water, which is water saturated with ozone, to flush tissues during surgery. If a patient has a badly infected tooth, we will flush the socket. The more we ozonate and oxygenate tissues, the quicker we kill the bacteria off."
Aside from his strong reputation for not hurting his patients, Dr. Livingstone stands out from his contemporaries by being the only dentist within a 50 mile radius to guarantee his work. If someone is not happy with his work or the results, he will either not charge them or give them a refund.
Continuing education is an important part of Dr. Livingstone's commitment to his patients. He regularly participates in continuing education as a way to provide the most up-to-date treatment options and highest quality care. "Connecticut has a mandate requiring dentists to have so many hours a year," he says, "but even without that, I would think it's foolish to think that a dental professional's education would end after dental school. The technology is advancing so rapidly that if you don't learn about all of the new tools and ways to apply them to enhance your practice and patient experiences, you will be left in the dust."
His commitment to cutting edge technology includes administrative tools that make life easier for both his patients and staff. Chief among these is Revenue Well, a totally automated, patient communication system which confirms appointments, allows patients to change them electronically, offers online bill paying and balances and even generates birthday cards. The dentist estimates that Revenue Well saves his front desk at least two hours of manual work per day.
Dr. Livingstone, a major outdoors enthusiast whose passions include riding motorcycles, fishing, camping, scuba diving, snow skiing and sports car racing, has extended the impact of his practice to many extracurricular activities. He has had articles published both locally and nationally, has given speeches before numerous audiences, is an ex-director and board member of the Society for Occlusal Studies, and has appeared on a number of radio and television shows on the subject of holistic dentistry and mercury toxicity. He is currently developing a call-in program for for the local Sharon, Connecticut NPR station entitled "Ask the Dentist."
In addition, he provides free dental care for adults and children through the Habitat for Humanity and Volunteers in Medicine (Great Barrington, Massachusetts) and is on the dental board of directors of V.I.M.. He also sponsors a local "Give Kids A Smile" day to provide comprehensive dental care at no charge to children of parents who cannot readily afford care for their children.
Dr. Livingstone has also been asked to appear and speak before the Environmental Protection Agency on the subject of heavy metal and mercury toxicity. In his public appearances and in consultation with his patients, he explains that homeopathy and herbal remedies are what people used for pain before the invention of antibiotics – and that old Indian remedies and herbal remedies were the norm before Penicillin and narcotics took over. He finds it curious that so many of his fellow dentists have made and stuck with a 180 degree turn from the old way of approaching pain, that actually worked pretty well.
Still, Dr. Livingstone insists that he is open to prescribe pain medication for those patients who insist on it, and under certain circumstances where he feels it would be more effective. "We basically give them a choice," he says, "between treating it the traditional way or homeopathically. Some patients are health nuts that way and don't want an antibiotic, but others, say with a badly infected tooth, don't want to put their immune system in any danger so they opt for the antibiotics. Our decision is based on the severity of the pain and how badly the tooth is infected. A badly infected tooth can damage the heart valves and the infection can spread to the lungs. It's not something to fool around with. We routinely prescribe pain medications and antibiotics and leave the choice to them."
Dr. Livingstone had built a successful practice in Kent over the course of 11 years when he decided to open a satellite office about 20 minutes up the road in Canaan. Between the time he decided to start constructing the new facility and its opening, the dentist who had been the most popular in town decided to retire. What Dr. Livingstone envisioned as a part time office quickly became inundated with patients.
"I truly have a blessed life," he says. "I live in a beautiful part of the country, doing what I want to do for a living, am self-employed and love nothing more than making people happy. There is no greater feeling than when I hand my patients a mirror and see tears of happiness and hear them say they can't believe how they look and thank me for what I've done for them. I'm at work at seven every day, and my goal every time I start the day is to make sure the patients who come to me are happy with their choice."