Open your mouth to Claude Hayat and you'll be revealing far more than you may have intended. Dr. Hayat is what may be loosely termed as a holistic dentist. Patients who go to his Rehavia clinic not only get their dental health checked out, they benefit from a considered expert opinion on the bigger corporeal picture.
"When I look at a patient's teeth I try to get an idea of the person's general health," says Hayat, adding that there is historical evidence for his alternative approach. "Back in the Middle Ages, and well after that, the condition of slaves was checked by looking at their teeth - like horses. Slaves with good teeth were, generally, able to do the work."
Hayat takes a patently natural approach to health in general, and teeth in particular, and vigorously opposes efforts to create a synthetic and cosmetic utopia. "These days people try to fight the natural aging process in unnatural ways. Companies try to sell us brilliant white teeth which, I believe, is simply aesthetically incompatible. Teeth are yellow or brown, and match a person's natural complexion and colors. There are dentists who make a very comfortable living just on whitening teeth. We don't all have to be fashion models. We should be ourselves, our healthy selves."
Fifty-one-year-old Tunisian-born Hayat has been plying his toothy trade since 1978. He moved with his family to Paris at the age of seven and came to Israel in his early twenties. For most of his working life, Hayat was a conventional dentist. Fittingly, his professional and personal epiphany resulted from a health problem. "About eight or nine years ago I had a skin complaint and I went to see a naturopath called Abuhatzeira," Hayat recalls. "He started talking to me about holistic healing and dentistry and said if I was interested in learning more about it, he would send me to a conference on the subject in France." The plane ticket was duly provided, Hayat spent an highly enlightening week in France and, for him, the rest is history.
Since then Hayat has developed and enhanced his holistic grail, and now views a person's dental condition also as a means of diagnosing other health-related problems. "In a way, the teeth are like the ears or soles of the feet. Like reflexology, they connect with other parts of the body," he explains.
He illustrates his internal networking theory with a story of a female patient who came to him a few years ago needing considerable dental repair work. "I fixed all the upper teeth, but a few months later almost all those teeth fell out. At the time, I couldn't understand it." Not long after, the cause of the dental fallout became starkly apparent. After Hayat installed the patient's dentures she discovered she had lung cancer. "I then understood that the body had devoted all its strength to handling the cancer, and neglected the teeth," says Hayat. "The body healed itself... but her dental problems were an alert."
Recently, another patient needed urgent first-aid work on a throbbing tooth. Within a day of starting root treatment the patient developed excruciating pain along a radial nerve in his back. "Releasing the pressure in the teeth caused a reaction in a corresponding place in the back," Hayat recalls. "The back pain went away quite quickly and I completed the dental work. You have to relate to what the tooth may be telling you about something happening elsewhere. It's like electrical wiring. You fix a fuse - a tooth - but, instead of solving the problem at source, you put in a more powerful fuse. That can cause a fire."
Over the years, Hayat's client base has spread beyond the environs of Jerusalem. "I have people coming to me from places like Tel Aviv and Karmiel," he says. "Actually, that's quite a heavy responsibility. I talk to the patients on the phone, to get a clear a picture as possible of their condition, before asking them to come all the way to Jerusalem."
True to his multi-pronged approach, Hayat has accumulated knowledge and expertise in other areas too. He sometimes incorporates subtle hypnosis in his work, and is currently furthering his homeopathy studies. He believes in covering as many bases as possible. "I am going to have a conventional GP installed in the clinic sometime next year," he says. "I think it is important to address all aspects of health, not just the dental ones."
He also, literally, adopts a hands-on approach. "Sometimes patients come to me in a state of heightened anxiety. Just a touch of a hand, or a tone of voice, can help to calm them down. We dentists must never forget we treat human beings, not machines. We are not car mechanics."
While Hayat follows an all-embracing ethos there is some behavior he will not tolerate. The biggest taboo of all is the world's most popular fizzy drink. "Coca Cola is the worst thing in existence for teeth," he declares. "There are some patients I won't take on because of their dietary habits. If I see someone is a heavy Coke drinker I'll examine their teeth, tell them to cut down or stop drinking Coke and ask them to come back to me a month later. If I see by the state of their teeth that they are still drinking the stuff, I won't treat them. It's a simple as that.
"I know, in a situation like that, it will cost a lot of money to treat the teeth and, in the end, it won't help and I'll get the blame."
Hayat also believes in devoting time to his patients. He realizes that is not the best way to swell his bank balance. "I know I'll never be a millionaire this way," he laughs. "Some dentists work on a conveyor belt system - some treat two patients at the same time. I don't know how they can give proper treatment like that."
The good news is that, surprisingly, we don't have to make thrice-daily use of our toothbrushes. Hayat advocates one just one clean-up a day, although he says regular toothpaste has its drawbacks. "Toothpaste is made of substances that should not be left in the mouth. After brushing there is residue which lodges between the teeth." Instead, he says we should all be using a far less consumer-friendly cleaning agent. "I use a salty gel that comes from the Dead Sea. Salt naturally resides in the body, so you are not introducing anything alien to the mouth."
The bottom line, as far as Hayat is concerned - and that is an attitude embraced by most "alternative" healers - is that we have to take responsibility for our own wellbeing. "If we eat correctly, and take care of our teeth and our general health, there is no reason why we can't improve and maintain good oral health." Evidently, that involves putting our money where our mouths are.