Mental Unrest and Dental Caries

By E. F. BRIGGS, D. D. D.Bangor, Maine

For centuries bodily change as been the criterion of emotion. The role of the musculature of limbs, trunk and face, in producing the attitudes, expressions and movements typical of the several emotions, has been evident at all times.

At a very early date observers began to pay special attention to the more obvious visceral activities which accompany affective states.

Conditions favorable to proper digestion are wholly abolished when unpleasant feelings prevail. There are many visible manifestations of mental reactions: the flushing of the skin and the contraction of the blood vessels with resulting pallor; the exuding of cold sweat and the rapid beating of the heart. There are however other organs hidden deeply in the body the action of which is also influenced by the emotions. Where little was known of the brain, and its relation to the internal organs there was a natural tendency to locate the feeling of emotion in the reactive viscera.

Throughout early Greek medicine psychic functions were generally attributed to thoracic and abdominal organs. Aristotle, who refused to attach much importance to the brain, made significant observations on the heart. To the influence of Aristotle and writers of the Old Testament we largely owe such expressions of common parlance as, “change of heart” and “hard hearted”. Today attempts are being made to gain more detailed knowledge of the relationship of those psychic and physical factors which find common ground in maladies such as certain indigestive, endocrine and other disorders.

It is through the study of the endocrine apparatus that we begin to perceive the connecting link between things of the mind and things of the body and by which and through which are enable to trace the power of mind over matter and matter over mind. The most intimate relationship exists between the ductless glands and the vegetative nervous system which includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves through which the glands are influenced by the emotions. It must also be remembered that these special functions are correlated as between gland and gland.

Not many years ago it was generally considered that cooperation of one part of the body with another was brought about by the central nervous system alone. When the true functions of the ductless glands were discovered the picture changed entirely. In many of the body reactions the nervous system took secondary place and the hormones secreted by the glands were found to control the most important reactions of the body.

Dr. Walter B. Cannon, physiologist at Harvard, seems to be the first to study directly the influence of emotional excitement and blood count. In students just after an examination he found an average of four hundred and fifty-seven thousand more erythrocytes per cubic millimeter than in the same students before examination. The fundamental work on emotions and adrenals carried on by Cannon for over twenty years is well known to all students of medicine. The experiments show that animals when excited, even for so short a time as half an hour, develop glycosuria.

The World War refocused the attention of physicians on the importance of mental shock as a factor in hyperthyroidism in men

In the Journal of the American Medical Association, nineteen hundred twenty-seven, page one hundred six, through page one hundred twenty-four, there is recorded that in a series of three thousand three hundred forty-three cases of exophthalmic goitre, two thousand eight hundred and forty-two or eighty-five per cent presented a clear history of mental shock as the exciting cause of the disease. The author Brain states: “Since psychic trauma appears to be the exciting cause in a vast majority of cases of exophthalmic goitre it would appear that this factor more closely approaches the solution of the genesis of its etiology than any other theory”.

That the parathyroid glands control the calcium metabolism of the body we have ample proof.

Surgery has lately taken advantage of this fact, since sympathectomy is performed to promote healing of fractures. This reveals to us that the action of the parathyroids is retarded through the sympathetic system which we know is stimulated by mental shock. Cabot has recorded an instance of fracture of a leg which failed to unite. Investigation showed that the patient was fearfullest his family was suffering while he was absent at the hospital; assurance that his family was well and happy and being cared for, quickly altered the patient’s condition, he ceased worrying and the bones immediately began to knit.

Causes of Dental Caries

The most generally accepted theory of dental caries at the present time is that it is brought about by an acid condition of the saliva which decalcifies the enamel.

Granting this, if the acid be neutralized by sufficient calcium which is released into the saliva by the normal function of the parathyroids, we have an immunity, but should their action be retarded through mental unrest, an acid reaction may result sufficient to cause a decalcifying of the enamel.

It is observed by all dentists that lower incisors are remarkably immune from dental caries, but tend to have tartar deposited on them. Broderick states: “This is due to their proximity to the orifices of the sublingual glands which secrete more calcium salts than the parotid.”

Dental caries has been described as the curse of civilization. In the records of the remote past we find abundant proof that diseases of the teeth and their investing tissues came into evidence with the earliest signs of civilization. It is only in those races remote from civilization and living a life of tranquility and having a stable environment that we find an immunity from dental caries.

The age in which we are living is one with the most revolutionary changes that the world has ever known. In a day you may be transferred from the sod hut to the most modern dwelling. From the ox cart and the lumber wagon for a ride in a luxurious automobile or air conditioned train.

What has this to do with decayed molars?

Dr. Carrell states: “The environment which has molded the body and the soul of our ancestors during many millenniums has now been replaced by another. This silent revolution has taken place almost without our noticing it. We have not realized its importance. Nevertheless it is one of the most dramatic events in the history of humanity. For any modification in their surroundings inevitably and profoundly disturbs all human beings.”

The rapid advancement made in physical sciences during the last two centuries gave rise to a materialistic age which has left its mark on medicine. Man came to be regarded merely as a wonderful complicated physical machine ever liable to disorder as one cog or another got out of gear.

Gradually the inadequacy of this view is being appreciated. That there is a growing recognition of the psychic aspects of sol-called organic disease is evidenced by the many articles that have appeared in current magazines during the past year. From the standpoint of dental and medical science the human organism should be considered a unity, psychobiological whole. Something more is necessary if we are to understand man’s behavior. Besides his material body as known, there is something which may, but possible never, be capable of explanation in terms of matter, that most colossal power of this world, his MIND.