We call it the Oral Systemic link but how surprising is that?
Recently our scientific endeavour is beginning to notice that conditions in the mouth have links with conditions in the body. This is a valuable insight, but as yet, it is very much in its infancy. There is a real human and scientific naivety in being surprised that the mouth has connections with other parts of the body and their function. By making the study of the mouth into a separate idea called ‘dentistry’, we set ourselves up for creating that myth. Only a naïve consciousness could believe that any organ in the body can operate separately from the whole system. We ‘swallowed’ this myth by first accepting the idea that dentistry was separate area of study and by holding on to that idea as we continued to study the mouth. Our second major error was the idea that the mouth is the organ of mastication or chewing and in that lies its only function. This was the beginning of the limited perspective of dentistry and so we ensured the choice to evolve very slowly. A purely biological model of the body was also part of the problem in that it fostered the idea that the biology was separate from the mind and emotions. These ideas were defended with such rigour that evolving understanding and growth was severely stunted not just in dentistry but in medicine as well.
We are more than repositories of data and analysis!
We further allowed ourselves to be so enthralled by one method of testing or learning that we closed down and disrespected other ways of knowing to become extremely one dimensional and limited. So, the double-blind randomised controlled study overtook all else and its weaknesses and limitations were pushed aside in our ‘scientific fervour’. We did have clues that there was more to the story as we discovered a phenomenon called the placebo effect, but we chose to side-line it and account for it statistically rather than try to understand why it existed. Our biggest clue to the power of the human mind was dismissed as ‘just the placebo effect’. We humans might be cute but we are not always that smart.
Slowly but surely, curious open minds started to ask questions about why a phenomenon like the placebo effect might exist and how might its study help us to understand more about our human condition and the diseases that we suffer from. Unfortunately, these pioneer thinkers were usually cast in the role of idiots and troublemakers and not worth listening to. A more enlightened attitude might have been to investigate and experiment but that was not widely enough available in our scientific community. This and other such incidents like it in scientific history should cause us to question our innate human bias and note how defensive and anti-scientific we behave while bowing ever more deeply to science as god. No wonder we got things so wrong. Science and measurement were not the problem, our childish defensiveness and rigidity was!
All of that is by way of introduction and explanation as we embark on the understanding of our ‘newly discovered’ mouth/body connection and how we come to be surprised at the unfolding connections. I hope to show that such a connection could not be more intuitively obvious and that ordinary people from any background are actually more likely to get it than those who have allowed themselves to be seduced by a ‘biased science’ unaware of its own bias. The wisdom of ancient philosophy entreating us to know ourselves seems to have been lost on the desert air.
Solutions based on our fundamental nature?
We might begin with the ancient wisdom of ‘know thyself’ from the Oracle of Delphi which suggests that we look deeply into our own human nature. This means looking at the full picture of what it means to be human, body/mind/emotion.
In a general sense, solutions must come from a different direction to the ones which created the problems in the first place. This is also the reason that most attempts to find solutions fail as we continue in the same direction. We do not always realise that more of the same creates more of the same and so we frantically try to fix models that are failing by pushing them more, in the insane hope that what has never worked will suddenly work if we call it by a new name or put somebody else in charge of it. We invested in ‘re-branding’ our Health boards in Ireland to a much more authoritative sounding ‘Health Service Executive’ but our problems deepen despite the new headed notepaper and slightly tweaked administration. How could this not have been obvious?
Therefore, we must go back to the misperceptions that pointed us in the wrong direction in the first place and begin a new direction. The first of these misperceptions in Dental Science is the separation of Dental from General Health. On what basis was this separation chosen? How can it be justified? This dysfunctional idea must go first and foremost. But that will mean we will have to re-educate both professions and the entire curriculum for both professions will need radical review and change, I hear the worried cry! The answer is yes. This will be necessary if we want to snatch success from the jaws of failure.
The next thing that needs to happen is that the separation of mind, body and emotion needs to be acknowledged as a complete nonsense. If any human being has experienced the increased heart rate, blood pressure and sweating in the body simply because they heard footsteps in the dark behind them, they do not need a randomised controlled study to tell them that their body, mind and emotions are all affected as one. Why did doctors find it so hard to get that?
The anatomy and physiology of the human stress response will be central to the understanding of disease in this model. This will be in sharp contrast to the long winded Latin descriptions of diseased tissue in our current literature usually accompanied with the term ‘aetiology unknown’ which means we know how to describe it in very fancy terms, but we have no idea what causes it!
We then restore to the mouth its central function of expression. This simply means that the mouth (apart from chewing) is the organ that provides a gateway for that which arises inside to be expressed into the environment. As we ponder the societal dysfunctions around expressing emotion, we soon realise that the mouth may actually the key to treating inner dis-eases simply by allowing the expression of these emotions to be purged as any good Psychotherapist will attest. In some ways the mouth, cut off from the body by medical and dental notions of separateness and silenced by societal dysfunctions around problem emotions as well as religious dogmas of good and bad, can be seen as the missing link to the emotional body and its purging.
There is indeed a Mouth/Body connection and it goes much deeper than some common bacterial species and statistical significance calculations. The Mouth is a Magnificent Multifunctional Organ central to the life and living and wellbeing of all and every human being. When you chose to look from this perspective, the connections are obvious and intuitive. This is the perspective that can bring real change in the health and wellbeing of our human family and make Dental Science really relevant and not just a charting of gum pockets and decayed, missing and filled teeth. and lectures on tooth brushing often understandably perceived as patronising!
Please read Something To Chew On: A Mouth Map to Health available on the site to understand the cognitive behavioural link more deeply.