Abraham Maslow is one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century. He lived from 1908-1970 and is best known for his “Hierarchy of Needs”. The hierarchy is made up of five needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. They are arranged in a pyramidal manner, with physiological needs making up the bottom of the pyramid.
Many quotes have been attributed to Abraham Maslow. This one, “You will either step forward into growth or back into safety”, is one of his quotes that is significantly relevant in today’s world of medicine.
As a periodontist, my training was conventional. That means that I was educated to believe that bacteria caused dental diseases (periodontal disease and tooth decay). I learned that these bacteria must be destroyed to treat the disease. However, students of dentistry were never taught about potential connections between the health of the gut, or the strength of the immune system, or the influence of environmental toxic elements and the progression of dental diseases. The fact that periodontal disease has been advancing as an epidemic among US adults is proof that current treatment leaves much to be desired.
In dental school and then later in graduate specialty school, my colleagues and I learned that dental plaque needed to be removed by any means possible.
Dental plaque is the film of bacteria that builds up and surrounds the teeth at their gum margins. However, dental plaque actually is healthy and serves a biological purpose, until this dental plaque becomes pathogenic. Dentists, as rebuilders of a healthy mouth, were taught to repair the damage that these bacteria caused in the mouth. Certainly, repairing the destruction that periodontal disease and tooth decay caused was critical then and is still critical today. I would not want it any other way. However, if the real origin of disease is not addressed, we as mouth specialists will continue to repair damage without ever stopping the progression of dental diseases.
Changing the Paradigm
Chris Kresser, a pillar in the healthcare community who is dedicated to “stepping forward into growth” has written a seminal book, Unconventional Medicine. This cutting-edge book addresses the change that must come in the way medical doctors, dentists, and all healthcare professionals move forward. Up until now, our healthcare system has allowed chronic disease to flourish. And, dental diseases are chronic diseases. A paradigm shift is necessary. There is a better way, which requires healthcare professionals to understand, uncover, and treat the underlying influences of chronic disease.
The health of the gut and the health of our cells’ mitochondria are areas that must be investigated. Supporting our immune system and eliminating toxic substances in our immediate environment must be considered. If these underlying causes are not addressed, and if the body’s cells are not repaired to sustain optimal function, then the healthcare industry will fall “back into safety” at the detriment to the health of our society.
I spoke with the head of the department of restorative dentistry at a mainstream dental school in the US. I talked to him about mercury fillings. He told me that dental students currently are being taught how to place mercury fillings in teeth. I asked him, “Why?” This educator told me that there has never been any study showing that mercury fillings in the mouth have caused any damage to the body. His statement blew me away. This is the battle we, who are trying to “step forward into growth”, are challenged to wage in the healthcare training and delivery of treatment in our country.
My effort is to educate everyone and anyone who wants to listen. I teach my patients, who have active periodontal disease, the real causes of their oral infection. Initially, disease must be stopped. Conventional treatment addressing the unhealthy dental plaque is important. But, it is more important for patients to learn the changes they need to make moving forward. Improving gut health and overall lifestyles will support dental health as well as overall health.