Women In Wellness: Dr Staci Whitman On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Knowing that the people you surround yourself with, your team and your community, are THE MOST important thing for your happiness and success. This group is your everything, so be sure to show them support, love, and appreciation always.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Staci Whitman.
Doctor Staci Whitman is on a mission to create a cavity-free world. She is the founder of NoPo Kids Dentistry where she takes a whole-body, holistic, and functional approach with her patients. Her dentistry/practice is grounded by science and powered by love.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in a small town in a rural part of Maine where much of my youth involved playing outside in the woods, creating magical adventures, and getting “wicked” dirty. It was a pretty simple and beautiful childhood in that regard. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by a lot of substance abuse issues and mental health challenges in my home, which left me in a state of constant survival mode as a child. Because of this, it left me always very interested in living optimally and thriving, even though I didn’t describe or realize it as such as a child. It was likely instinctual…I did not want to live a life filled with illness, toxicity, sadness, and disease. I wanted to thrive.
Around 10 years old I suffered a severe bicycle accident where I knocked out several permanent teeth and broke my upper jaw, forcing me to be in and out of dentist, orthodontist, and surgeon offices throughout my youth. Because of these amazing and nurturing providers, I became very interested in dentistry, eventually choosing a path of becoming a dentist myself. Like all programs, my initial training and exposure to dentistry was very traditional, where I learned all the basic sciences and hands-on techniques necessary to become a competent and proficient dental provider. I practiced as a general dentist in a very traditional manner right out of school and was immediately quite unhappy and dissatisfied. Dentistry just did not resonate with me and I never felt like I was truly making a difference in my patients’ lives. I was addressing end-stage disease but with little to no root-cause education or time to help support patients in preventing issues from arising again. I personally was very interested in optimal living and nutrition and was often reading and studying more about this in my downtime. In my late twenties, my mom passed away quite suddenly and dramatically from cancer…this was after my father passed away in my late teens due to alcoholism and my stepfather passed away while I was in dental school from liver disease. All of these early deaths had definite causes linking back to outside and environmental influences, propelling me on my current mission to not only support myself in optimal living but also to support my patients toward whole-body wellness and to educate how so much of it connects back to oral health. I wanted to get as upstream as possible and I knew this meant I had to work with children and their parents. I had to help educate and prevent issues from beginning in the first place and this path has led me to where I am now, practicing as a root-cause, functional, and holistic pediatric dentist. And I have never had a stronger sense of purpose since starting my career 15 years ago and I am thrilled to see where the next 15 years take me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
A story that really impacted me and my path actually ended up being a series of stories I heard over and over again…how much dental fear and phobia there was in the adult population due to events and traumatic experiences that they had as children at the dentist. Similar and repeated memories were shared: “I was restrained against my will,” “I asked them to stop because it hurt and they didn’t listen,” “The dentist put their hand over my mouth, making me feel like I couldn’t breathe, and told me if I didn’t cooperate than ____ would happen to me.” It is tragic, shocking, and embarrassing to hear these stories of my past colleagues. I knew it didn’t have to be this way. I knew we could do better. I knew that I could help pave a new image of dentistry, one that is founded in love and compassion and prevention, while being grounded in science. It was because of these dozens and dozens of stories that I heard over my few years treating adults, that I decided I must pursue a specialty in pediatrics.
The other story I’ll mention is that shortly after I graduated from dental school, I worked at this corporate dental office as a general dentist and one afternoon we all had to evacuate the building because an assistant had dropped a bottle of something called formocresol, which is essentially a formaldehyde derivative that is often used in pulpal treatments/pulpotomies (nerve treatments of primary or baby teeth). I remember standing out in the parking lot thinking, “why is it in the corporate handbook to evaluate the building if a bunch of this stuff spills, but we are still putting this in children’s mouths?” It was one of the many situations that led me to seriously question the way we were doing things in dentistry and prompted me to seriously question many of the treatment modalities I had been taught in school. Again, I knew there must be a better way, a safer way, a more holistic and supportive way to care for our children.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I made when I first started out as a dentist is that I wasn’t true to myself. While I personally tended to lean into a very clean, holistic, and natural lifestyle, especially after losing my mother suddenly to cancer, I was still practicing dentistry in a very old and archaic manner using unideal materials and making treatment recommendations that never resonated with my core values. In hindsight, I do wish I had been more true to myself and practiced more in a manner that felt right to me from the very beginning, but it was so “against the grain” to question aspects of traditional dentistry and I simply didn’t have the courage to do so at the time. While I am thankful and appreciative of my origins of training and needed that basis to be the dentist I am today, I do wish I had pursued my passion to embrace functional dentistry sooner in my career so I could have helped more patients achieve optimal oral health earlier.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person who’s most helped me along my journey the most would have to be my husband, Josiah. He’s incredibly tolerant, loving, and supportive of all of my passions, ideas, and interests…whether it is coming up with new practice modalities, new strategies, or new products, he keeps me very grounded, while also being extremely supportive. I am forever thankful to him.
Honestly, my entire team, whether it’s my NoPo Kids Dentistry team, my Doctor Staci team, or my Happi Floss team, are also so instrumental and essential in my life and I couldn’t do any of it without them.
I’ve also met a lot of really cool and inspirational colleagues (and now friends) on Instagram and social media who become absolute mentors of mine including Dr. Mark Burhenne and Dr. Steven Lin, both functional dentists that I really admire and look up to and who challenge me and inspire me constantly. As we know, it takes a village, and I am forever thankful to mine for giving me the space to follow my path and to fulfill my sense of purpose.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I like to think that the work I’m doing is helping humans, starting with children living healthier and more fulfilling lives, with a heavy focus on creating a cavity-free world. I believe education is the key to health and there’s so much misinformation out there. I aspire to become a trustworthy source, a true doctor, or teacher and want to inspire new parents, overwhelmed families, and humans, in general, to learn to better care for themselves and their children. I want to get the mouth back into the body and to re-emphasize how critical oral health is…that it shouldn’t simply be an afterthought. I think so many of us were raised thinking cavities and gum disease are inevitable and they’re “no big deal.” While we shouldn’t be panicked or feel shame or guilt about cavities and oral disease, they are signs of oral dysbiosis and microbiome imbalances, which can directly affect and lead to other systemic illnesses. Oral health is a major key to overall health and so if we have issues going on in our oral cavity, that can affect the health of our entire body. So ultimately, I really just want to continue making patients healthier and ultimately happier.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
I can tell you five ways to keep your oral health in optimal condition, therefore helping to keep your systemic health in check, too.
- Airway health is critical and sleep is paramount. Both are so incredibly foundational for health and are a great starting place to establish ultimate health. If you do not fully restore every night, you can’t possibly fully regenerate. And how you breathe affects this. Nasal breathing (not mouth-breathing) and getting proper oxygenation are extremely important for systemic health and mental clarity, as well as optimal oral health. People who mouth breath suffer from more cavities, gum disease, and oral dysbiosis.
- My next tip is to deeply appreciate the value of flossing. I can’t emphasize it enough and wish it were a non-negotiable for all humans. When gums are in a state of chronic inflammation, that inflammation doesn’t just stay in the mouth and can affect all aspects of your body, including leading to systemic issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy complications, and many, many more.
- I encourage humans and families to get back into the kitchen and to start this experience with children early on, by learning where their food comes from, how to prepare it, and what flavors and techniques best create a deeply nourishing meal. Going to the farmer’s market, joining a CSA, or starting a small garden are all beautiful ways to start appreciating the beauty of food again. Teaching children early on how “eating the rainbow” is critical to whole-body health and how functional foods like fruits and veggies are full of information, like phytonutrients, that help to develop us into optimal humans, including ideal oral health and development. Don’t be afraid to introduce bold flavors to your children early on. Adding various spices, flavors, and textures from an early age will help to develop a more adventurous eater. The benefits of this are invaluable.
- Water is also on the top of my list and starting your children out early and encouraging proper hydration is the key to overall health and will also lessen your risk for oral disease by keeping your saliva supported and pH in balance.
- Finally, learning how to support your oral microbiome is key. Strategies like nasal breathing, proper hygiene, less harsh and more supportive dental products, nutrient-dense foods and prebiotic fibers, and fermented foods are all things to focus on for ideal oral microbiome balance.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
One thing that could bring a tremendous amount of wellness to everyone is nasal breathing. The importance of nasal breathing cannot be overemphasized. It helps to: filter the air you breathe; humidify it; increase nitric oxide release which has profound systemic effects; increase oxygenation, leading to feeling more rested, more focused and more attentive; and reduce cavities and gum disease by keeping the oral microbiome in check and keeping saliva healthy and nourishing. Mouth breathing can lead to inflamed tonsils, oral dysbiosis, gut dysbiosis, exacerbating or contributing to issues like sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnea, which can affect cardiovascular health, mental health, and systemic balance. Work with an airway-focussed dentist to help address your child’s or your own root causes of mouth-breathing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Don’t believe everything you’re taught right out of the gate… definitely question everything and do your own research to validate, as things can change over time based on the latest studies, technology, materials, and data.
2. It’s OK to be yourself in front of your patients. Your patients will really appreciate that. Just be honest and authentic.
3. You don’t need to always have all of the answers. It is OK to say “I don’t know, but I will look that up and get back to you.”
4. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Just because everyone else is working 8 to 6 Monday through Friday, it doesn’t mean that you need to do that, too. Just because everyone else is only booking only 30 minutes with patients, you can book more time. Do what makes you happy and what you need to do to offer your definition of optimal patient care, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance and taking care of your needs, too.
5. Knowing that the people you surround yourself with, your team and your community, are THE MOST important thing for your happiness and success. This group is your everything, so be sure to show them support, love, and appreciation always.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
To me, the most critical of all of these is the environment. Environment and sustainability are very interconnected, but without a healthy planet and without clean water, clean air, and a thriving ecosystem we cannot sustain ourselves as a thriving species regardless of how mindful we are, how cleanly we eat, or how much exercise we get. We must start taking this seriously and prioritizing our planetary health. We create so much damage and so much waste on our planet. And the dental industry is a huge contributor to this, whether from actual dental practices, or from our daily dental products that you use at home, like toothpaste tubes, floss containers, plastic flossers, rinse bottles, and all of the packaging involved. This is what inspired me to create Happi Floss, the world’s first truly compostable floss pick which is still in the investor round. I aspire to create an entire line of sustainable and science-backed products in the very near future to help battle this issue in the market and to help support the planet in my own way. If we all made small, daily changes, we would be in a very different situation than we are now and I am hopeful that humans will step up and demand change soon.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me mostly on Instagram @doctor_staci and also on my website www.doctrostaci.com . If you are in the Pacific Northwest or willing to travel, my office is located in Portland, OR, www.nopokids.com , and we are always thrilled to meet new patients. I am finishing up a book, cookbook, and a series of courses to teach more on how to care for yourself, your children, your teeth, and your oral microbiome, and hope for lots of great announcements in 2022!
Thank you for these fantastic insights!