So I went to the dentist the other day and learned something interesting about my mental state. During the routine dental check-up, my hygienist asked me if there was something different in my life. “You seem to be less stressed, I can tell by looking at your mouth,” she said. I was quite impressed as I have recently made a new self-employed career choice that while it may be a bit challenging, has given me a more relaxed, positive attitude about my future.
Of course she did not know this beforehand.
After years of looking in peoples’ mouths, (God bless her!) Susie has developed a keen insight into a person’s overall “emotional” health by such clues as gum health, grinding, sores on mouth, and in my case the tension I somehow always retain in my clenched jaw. In the 18 years or so that she has been cleaning my teeth, Susie has probably looked in my mouth forty or so times. That’s a lot of data to retain and analyze. In doing so she has become a perceptive Tooth Psychologist. One big clue this time was the ease by which I accepted and bit down on the x-ray sensor, which usually causes me to gag and resist.
“And you thought all I did was clean teeth,” she said.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s well documented that if you grind your teeth, it may be a sign that you are anxious or stressed. It can subconsciously help relieve some of your anxiety or ease frustrations. Feelings of anger, especially when these emotions are suppressed, can trigger this habit. Swollen and receding gums can be an early sign of diabetes, and sores in your mouth that don’t heal can sometimes indicate oral cancer.
According to Healing Teeth Naturally “There are a number of scientific studies which do support a link between caries ( tooth decay) development, emotions and stress. It seems likely that among the factors in the chain of causation linking stress and caries development are the lowering effect negative emotions (may) have both on the immune system (equalling less defense against bacteria colonising teeth and gums) and on saliva pH (the more acidic the saliva, the more caries1). Also the dry mouth experienced under extreme stress, any medications taken to alleviate stress [as well as other medicines] which decrease saliva production3 and of course the sweet sugary “comfort foods” resorted to by many in times of stress (classical example: choccy bars).”
There has even been research conducted into the tooth-friendly effect of meditation. According to “The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation” Increase in saliva and higher salivary pH: meditation to achieve relaxation in anxiety subjects induces tooth-friendly changes in the meditator’s mouth. Morse et al. (1983) studied ten dental patients requiring nonsurgical endodontic therapy on upper anterior teeth who practiced simple word meditation in order to relax. Results showed significant pretest/posttest-meditation anxiety reduction measured by questionnaire, increased salivary volume, reduced salivary protein, increased amylase, and increased salivary pH.
Most traditional psychologists like to be compensated for the advice they render. In this day and age of cost cutting, you might want to consider doubling up the next time you get your teeth cleaned, and see if you can get a free reading on your emotional temperature as well. It may save you big bucks down the road on crowns, caps and cavities.