People often ask me why, as a dentist, I am concerned with issues like sleep, breathing problems, acid reflux, back pain and chronic illness.
The answer is that all the systems in the body are inter-related.
Breaking the body down into silos of study makes no sense. It would be like bringing your car to the repair shop because it’s running poorly and the mechanic only checks your tires.
Dentists remediate problems with the teeth and gums, but teeth and gums are affected by the structures of the mouth and jaw. Those, in turn, affect breathing and swallowing, which affect sleeping and digestion, and so on as it cascades through the body.
My study and work have led me to discover how seemingly unrelated physical issues can actually be cause and effect.
For example, a broken nose could cause neck pain and heartburn. Breathing issues can lead to knee and hip pain. It is critical for any health care practitioner to examine the whole body, not just a single structure.
But there is more to good health than just physical health. That is one system in the Triad of Health. If one of the three systems is unhealthy, the triad is compromised. Addressing all three systems gives the patient the best chance of having the ideal environment for healing and recovery.
The world’s first physician, Hippocrates, for whom the Hippocratic Oath is named, understood the importance of diet to health. He said, “let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” He treated patients by altering their diets because he understood that the body would heal itself under the right conditions.
Proper diet is essential to human health. Just as a dose of ibuprofen can decrease inflammation, eating the wrong foods can cause inflammation that interferes with optimal bodily functions. In this age of processed foods and additives and other inflammatory ingredients (notably sugar), it can be a challenge to fuel the body with high-quality natural food, a good mix of fruits, vegetables, and proteins.
When we see patients complaining of chronic health issues, we often send them to nutritionists to re-evaluate their diet. As a dentist, this is not my area of expertise, but I recognize that other health practitioners can contribute to a patient’s health.
A second element of the chemical/nutritional leg of the triad is sleep. Adequate restful and refreshing sleep is critical to good health as the brain rests, heals, and recovers from the day’s activities. America is suffering an epidemic of poor sleep, with 45% of Americans admitting that poor or insufficient sleep affects their daily activities at least once a week, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Good healing also relies on a patient being in good spirits and mentally fit. Patients devoid of hope will have difficulty regaining their physical health. Sadness, anxiety, and fear depress the immune system and interfere with healing.
When needed, a patient may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist to ensure that the mental/spiritual system is being effectively addressed.
Humans are an interlocking array of systems that all affect each other’s ability to function. We must treat the whole person, physically, chemically and emotionally, in order to cure what ails us.