There does not appear to be any practical limits to the utter nonsense and pseudoscience that is invading health care. Apparently it's hip to be scientifically illiterate and pathologically gullible when it comes to "healing." Just when I think I've seen the worst of it something new comes along to push the envelope.
Have you heard of "natural" or "holistic" dentistry? It seems to be just regular dentistry with an additional layer of marketable woo. Just put some organic wheat grass in your toothpaste you're practicing "natural" tooth care.
The nonsensical height of holistic dentistry is the tooth-organ chart. This is yet another manifestation of the homunculus-based healing philosophy - the pre-scientific notion that the organs and other parts of the body somehow map to one particular body part, which is then the gateway to manipulating those body parts. Irididology holds that the iris of the eyes maps to the body, auricular acupuncture uses the outer ear, Korean hand therapy the hand, chiropractic the spine, and reflexology the foot.
All of these belief systems are based upon the same homonculus model, and they are also all completely without any scientific basis. Despite centuries of anatomists dissecting the human body in great detail and exploring every connection, no one has ever discovered the alleged connections between these various body parts and the rest of the body. (I should note that the chiropractic subluxation chart does not correlate with actual nerve innervation.) There is simply no mechanism by which kidney disease would change the color in your iris or somehow connect to your outer ear or foot.
Now I can add a new one to my list - the tooth organ chart. Did you know that your first molar on the upper left somehow connects to your liver, spleen, stomach and kidney?
The connection apparently goes both ways. Dr. Elmer Jung informs us:
"If a tooth develops decay and another doesn´t, this isn´t just a case of poor nutrition and bad bushing. Your teeth reflect your physical as well as your emotional conditions. If you look after your teeth well and yet a tooth starts to decay, there could be an emotional issue needing to be resolved."
As you probably anticipated, Dr. Jung does not defend the tooth-organ magical connection with any serious scientific evidence, just anecdotes:
"For many years a patient had suffered from alternating constipation and diarrhoea together with pains in his stomach and large intestine before becoming a patient at my clinic. The initial x-ray showed a large bone loss on the lower right first molar.
This tooth is linked to the large intestine.
The tooth and the abscess were removed, the bone cleaned and some homeopathic remedies injected into this area.
When he came back for checking the healing process only a few days later, his pain was gone as were his constipation and diarrhoea."
The Center for Natural Dentistry also does not appear to have any reliable evidence, but they still urge the public:
"No matter what you think about Chinese medicine, acupuncture, meridians (energy channels or pathways), and chi (energy), you should give this ancient method of diagnosis and treatment a chance. It has been used for thousands of years and is still used and taught to students all over the world."
Even if I think it's utter nonsense? Well, at least they offer the appeal to antiquity and popularity for justification. I guess that should be good enough.
As further evidence that the alternative medicine community is systematically gullible, medical educator John McLachlan created his own homunculus - on the butt - and offered his new system, which was accepted as an abstract at an alternative medicine conference (Original paper is behind a paywall).
There is no reason why you can't make up your own system. Just pick a currently unused part of the body and slip it into an existing homunculus organ chart. I think the elbow still hasn't been claimed. Better hurry.
Steven Novella, M.D. is the JREF's Senior Fellow and Director of the JREF’s Science-Based Medicine project.
Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society and the host and producer of the popular weekly science show, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He also authors the NeuroLogica Blog.