Hannah Bronfman, content creator, author, and founder of HB Fit, had never had any dental issues growing up or in her adult life. So when she sustained an injury to her mouth, she didn’t think too much about it after she’d healed. But then a few years later, a ton of seemingly unrelated symptoms cropped up — fatigue, gut issues, infertility — and after going to a natural dentistry practice at the recommendation of her doctor, she learned that her dental trauma had actually had a way bigger impact than she’d realized. Read on to learn about how trauma can impact the oral microbiome (and how the oral microbiome can impact overall health), why holistic dental care is the only surefire way to treat the root cause of an issue, and much more.
A Traumatic Accident, then Mysterious Symptoms
“The dental journey that I’ve been on has definitely been full of emotional ups and downs,” Bronfman says by way of introducing her story. She’d never had any dental issues, not even cavities growing up, and so what happened to her as an adult was a true roller coaster.
Six years ago, the day after her now-husband proposed to her, Bronfman grabbed a CitiBike to go to a meeting, heading off into the NYC chaos without a helmet (“I do not recommend,” she says). She was “a wee bit hungover” from celebrating her engagement, rushing to get to her destination on time, and distracted by the new shiny ring on her finger, so she didn’t see a big pothole right in front of her. She hit the pothole, went flying over the bike’s handlebars, and landed on her face on the concrete.
Though Bronfman didn’t break any bones, she did a number on her teeth and mouth. One of her teeth was knocked back at a 60 degree angle, while three others were badly chipped. Her lip was split open and her chin and nose were also busted up. She was happy that she hadn’t injured herself more seriously but, she says, “It was pretty traumatic.”
After the injury had healed a bit, she got some bonding and veneers, which allowed her to look and function as if she had normal, intact teeth. She put the incident behind her.
Then about four years later, while she was on a publicity tour for her book Do What Feels Good, Bronfman’s health began to deteriorate. She began experiencing what she now describes as chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, her digestive system was working slower than normal, and she wasn’t getting quality sleep. At the same time, she and her husband had been having trouble conceiving. She was flying all over the country running herself ragged for the tour, so she could have chalked it all up to stress, but she had a sense there was something else going on.
“Everything wasn’t really adding up, especially for someone who really listens to their body,” says Bronfman, explaining that she understands the body’s fight-or-flight response and knows what to do to calm her nervous system and get herself back into a parasympathetic state. “None of the techniques I have in my toolkit were working. So that made me think something different was going on,” she says.
Why Her Doctor Recommended Holistic Dental Care
To rule some things out right off the bat, Bronfman got a blood test and had it analyzed by a doctor she trusted. When she called him for the consultation, she told him all of her symptoms, as well as the fact that she’d been struggling to get pregnant.
Before he asked her anything, the doctor said that he’d seen a case like this before. Some years prior, he’d seen a healthy young woman with a similar cluster of symptoms, including infertility. When they ran their diagnostic tests, they found that her oral microbiome was completely off; she had off-the-chart levels of strep bacteria in her mouth. Upon discovering this, he asked the woman if she’d ever experienced any dental trauma. Turns out, she had: as a cheerleader in high school many years before, one of her teeth was knocked out. That old trauma had led to an infection, which had caused an overgrowth of bacteria in her oral microbiome, which then led to all her other symptoms.
After telling this story, the doctor asked Bronfman if she’d ever experienced any trauma to her mouth. Shocked, she told him about the bike accident four years earlier.
He said, “Your mouth is very representative of your reproductive system. I think you have a really major infection.” He went on to explain that the health of your mouth is intimately connected to the health of the rest of your body, yet we treat them separately. So in order for her to heal the root causes of her symptoms, Bronfman needed to get holistic dental care that looked at her as a whole person to truly understand what was going on.
The Natural Dentistry Practice that Transformed Her Health
Bronfman’s doctor referred her to a natural dentistry practice in Austin, Texas, called Nunnally, Freeman & Owens. “I thought to myself, what? I’m based in New York! That’s crazy!” says Bronfman. But her doctor explained that he wanted her to get a specific type of scan and that he didn’t know of any dentists in New York who would know how to interpret it in the same way that those in Austin would.
He went on to explain that in the dental industry, the most common procedure is a root canal, and so many conventional dentists are programmed to go to that immediately — in part because it’s the first thing they think of, and in part because there is a financial incentive for pricey procedures like that. Her doctor knew that a root canal wouldn’t get to the underlying cause of Bronfman’s issues, which he suspected to be an out-of-balance oral microbiome caused by her dental trauma. Plus, she’d already had a root canal on one of her damaged teeth just three months prior, and was clearly still having issues!
He knew that the natural dentistry practice in Austin, however, wouldn’t go straight to a root canal. As practitioners of holistic dental care, he said, they would take a more comprehensive approach to assessing and treating Bronfman’s symptoms.
As it turned out, Bronfman had a book event in Austin the following week, which she took as a sign. She made an appointment at the natural dentistry practice.
When she arrived for her appointment, Bronfman was struck by how different the practice was than any other she’d ever visited. “It was a very holistic approach to oral care, something I’d never experienced before living in New York,” she says. There was ozone therapy, lymphatic drainage, the works.
At the appointment, she got something called a 3D cone beam scan that looked at her teeth and mouth in great detail. When the dentist read her results, Bronfman was shocked.
“It turns out that I had three massively infected teeth,” she says. “The infection was so intense that their recommendation was that I have those teeth extracted.” This, of course, meant that Bronfman would need to lose the veneers that she’d spent so much money on, and she wasn’t sure what it would mean in terms of how her face looked going forward. “I started crying hysterically,” she says.
The dentist was sympathetic — they were Bronfman’s front teeth, after all — but she gently emphasized the importance of the extraction. “She said, ‘I get it. But I can tell you that when I extract your teeth, we will get rid of this infection 100%,” Bronfman recalls.
On the other hand, if she went the root canal route, she would probably need to get multiple root canals and even then the infection might remain — plus she’d already had a root canal, and that clearly hadn’t fixed the issue. “So it was kind of either go down the path of still having a hard time getting pregnant, getting root canals, and not really getting to the root of the infection, or I could get my three major teeth that are structurally holding up my face removed and pray to God that someone can cosmetically redo what needs to be done,” Bronfman says.
She called her doctor in New York to get his take; he agreed with the recommendation of the natural dentistry practice. Bronfman made an appointment for the extraction.
Repairing Her Oral Microbiome Through Surgery
The following month, Bronfman and her husband flew to Austin for her extraction. Once her teeth had been removed, they were sent off to a pathology lab for analysis, and she came back in once the results were ready.
The pathology report showed that her oral microbiome was a mess. Her infection was out of control: she had 23 different types of bacteria in her mouth, the levels of which were all off the charts, and four of those bacteria were the same strains found in her father-in-law’s throat cancer. “So, I’m actually very glad that I got my teeth extracted, although it was very emotionally traumatizing,” she says.
She left the appointment with temporary dental bridges that restored both function and cosmetic appearance to her mouth, and eventually got permanent ones back in New York. As soon as she’d had the surgery — which also included lymphatic drainage beforehand, another benefit of getting holistic dental care — her symptoms began to dissipate. She felt less fatigued, her gut health was restored, and her sleep was better. Six months later, she had zero infection left in her body. Nine months later, she was pregnant. “Not only did my micro symptoms dissipate, but the macro situation of my infertility also changed,” she says. “So it’s all around a win-win.”
Hoping that Natural Dentistry Becomes More Mainstream
Bronfman’s experience showed her that the health of your teeth and oral microbiome is part of your overall health. “What happens in your mouth speaks to the rest of your body, including your heart, your reproductive system,” she says. “In the medical world, we see it as a separate kind of thing than your regular checkup to see how the rest of your body is doing. Dentistry is like an island over there, but it’s very much connected to your overall well-being. That’s what I really learned through this experience.”
She both hopes and believes that topics like natural dentistry and the oral microbiome will get more attention in the future, especially as gut health has become such a mainstream topic recently. “Everyone is talking about the microbiome,” she says. “And oral health, your mouth — it’s gonna be big. So many brands have come out recently [addressing this topic], but it’s still early.”
Indeed, terms like “dental trauma,” “natural dentistry,” “holistic dental care,” and “oral microbiome,” are all pretty unfamiliar to people right now, but as Bronfman’s story illustrates, they couldn’t be more crucial. Here’s hoping that stories like hers — and public health education in general — will make these terms and others part of the common parlance soon.
Have you ever experienced any dental trauma? Were there unexpected repercussions? Share your story in the comments below!
Watch our full interview with Hannah Bronfman to learn why one of her teeth turned black shortly after the accident, what she saw in the pictures that were taken of her teeth during surgery, how her baby shows her the importance of oral health, and more.
The recovery story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.