Most health practitioners recognise that disease, or lack of complete health, is brought about by stress to the organism. This overall stressful assault on our bodies is usually a combination of a number of different types of stress, all of which are likely to be active at all times throughout our lives. The extent to which any one, or all of these stressors will affect one’s health will depend upon one’s ability to cope with or adapt to the stress – the Physiologic Adaptive Range.
The Integrated approach to health and dentistry recognises five main stressors, each with its own set of inclusions. It is not within the scope of Integrated Dentistry to deal with all of these stressors, however they must be acknowledged, and every effort must be made not to exacerbate any existing problem, and indeed, where possible, to help to improve such problems.
The Five Stressors are:
Emotional Stress – although there are certain stresses that are pleasant and positive, the pressures of work, social life, family, finances and so on frequently have a harmful effect on our health. When most people talk about “stress”, it is this stressor they are referring to, and they try various techniques to help deal with this stress, ranging from meditation and exercise, to prescribed and recreational drugs.
Environmental Stress – we should be able to live in an environment which is healthy, however, there are many factors in the environment, including chemical toxins and pollutants, allergens, electromagnetic radiation and microbial infection, which can compromise our health. Some people are more sensitive than others to the numerous toxic pollutants in our environment. This is believed to be one of the major causes of such illnesses as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
However, there are many toxic pollutants that take their toll on all of the population to varying extents. For example, in certain farming areas where chemical sprays of pesticides and chemical fertilisers are used extensively, it is hard to find a family that has not had at least one immediate family member stricken by, or die with cancer.
Since 1945, modern chemical science has developed more than 75,000 previously unknown chemicals that have been released into our environment. Until that time, the human race has evolved over millions of years to adapt to the environment slowly as that environment changes. With this explosion of new environmental changes in only two or three generations, it is surely naïve to think that we have been able to evolve or adapt to this new environment.
The rapidly increasing list of endangered species, and those that have become extinct over the last five decades is testament to the stress we are putting on the world’s environment.
Allergens are irritants that cause an allergic reaction (such as rashes, sneezing, sinusitis and other symptoms), without actually being a toxic substance that would affect all members of the population. House dust (or at least its inhabitant – the dust mite) is a common allergen, but it does not affect everyone. Many people are allergic to particular drugs, and allergy to penicillin has become more than a nuisance to health practitioners dealing with crisis care and symptomatic care.
Electromagnetic radiation receives a lot of press, as there is still quite a controversy about the effects of such radiation at certain levels. In Australia, we are particularly aware of the harmful effects of UV radiation and its links with skin cancer. Many are also concerned (and some a little over-concerned) about the effects of X-rays, including medical diagnostic radiation.
Also the experience of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and more recently those living in a large area around Chernobyl, has shown us the devastating effects of nuclear radiation. In the last few years, the radiation from mobile phones has been in the news, and there is an ongoing question over the effects of overhead electric power lines.
Any one of these may be harmful to an individual, but nobody is sure about the long-term effects of the constant onslaught of the combination of all of these sources of radiation.
Finally there are the bacterial, viral, fungal and other infections which spread throughout our environment in various ways at all times. Airborne bacteria and viruses cause such illnesses as the common cold and the more serious influenzas. Parasites in the water supply, even in large modern cities like Sydney, occasionally cause us to need to boil our water before drinking.
Health professionals need to constantly take precautions against the possibility of blood-borne infections. Most of these microbial infections can, fortunately, be successfully treated in various ways, but some remain resistant to all of the resources of modern science.
Postural Stress – the distorted postures used, either by necessity or by habit, during work, exercise and sleep, cause strain in muscles, nerve damage and reduction of proper blood supply to various parts of the body. When standing upright, the knees, pelvis, ribs, and shoulders should all be parallel to the ground, and the head should be upright with ears and eyes parallel to the ground.
On close examination, however, many people have postural distortions that usually fit into particular patterns. Understanding these patterns can give the practitioner a clue to the cause of the distortion (and often even the timing of the onset of the problem), as well as an indication of how to correct the distortion.
Often these distortions will have originated with the collapse of the muscle tone of the feet, due to poorly designed modern footwear, or lack of proper exercise. Sometimes distortions will originate in a strain in the sacroiliac (the connection between the pelvis and the spine), and on occasion, the strain will have its primary source in the skull, due to jaw or bite distortions.
Unless there are true asymmetrical distortions in the development of bones, or there have been serious degenerative changes due to long-term trauma to the bones, most postural problems can be corrected with the right treatment over a period of time – the longer the problem has had to develop, the longer it will take to correct.
Nutritional Stress – what we eat and drink should help to build, maintain and repair our body, but all too often the wrong kinds of substances are ingested, and many of the essential nutrients are left out.
As the old adage states – “We are what we eat”.
In the past, nutrition has usually been forgotten in the search for the cause and treatment of diseases. It is not hard to understand why – medical scientists have a difficult task at the best of times, so they try to find a single “cause and effect” relationship in the search for the aetiology (origin or cause) and treatment of specific illnesses.
The understanding of the biochemistry of nutrition is complex indeed. In fact, there are so many substrates, enzymes, co-enzymes, products and co-products involved in the body’s chemistry that trying to find direct relationships between specific nutrients and their effects is like trying to negotiate a minefield blindfolded.
Add to the complexity of normal biochemistry the complication of the various pollutants that are now unavoidable, the drugs – both recreational and prescribed – which are so commonly used in modern society, and the interactions between these drugs, as well as interactions between drugs and nutrients, and one can begin to understand why nutrition has fallen into the shadow of much of the other medical research.
Just one example of nutritional damage occurring due to a commonly used recreational drug is the case of Vitamin C. If you smoke, take careful note of this. Every cigarette one smokes will use up about 25 milligrams of VitC. The current Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for VitC in Australia is – 30mg for women, 40mg for men, 25-30mg for infants to adolescents, 60mg for pregnant women and 75mg during lactation. This means that only two cigarettes will use up the entire RDI of VitC.
Vitamin C is one of our most important antioxidants, required to reduce the content of “free radicals” in the blood, to minimise the harmful effects of excess low density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) and to work synergistically to support other antioxidants (particularly Vit E). The free radicals have also been linked with the development of various cancers.
Is it any wonder, then, that smokers are at such great risk of cancers (apart from lung cancer) and coronary heart disease? In case you are thinking, “I get enough VitC”, consider this. A study done in Australia in the late 1980s (yes, it is relatively old – but have our diets really changed that much?) showed that 26% of men and 20% of women consumed less than the RDI of VitC. This example shows that many people do not consume enough of this one nutrient just to avoid disease. Research shows that careful consideration should be given to nutrition if one is to try to achieve health.
Dental Stress – has much further reaching effects than most people realise. Dental stress occurs in four forms – Microbial, Biochemical, Biomechanical and Emotional, and just like the four stressors mentioned above, these all interact with each other and throughout the entire body.
Dental Stress is the stressor most directly dealt with by Integrated Dentistry. See Dental Disease.