Psychic Trauma and Dental Caries.

Mental Unrest Causes Physical Unbalance

The Relationship of the Mind to BodilyProcesses is Discussed by Dr. E.F. Briggs in



                Cicero: “The disease of the mind are more numerous and more destructive than those of the body.” (1)

“Nearly half a millennium B. C., Socrates came back from army service to report to his Greek countrymen that in one respect the barbarian Thracians were in advance of Greek civilization: That knew that the body could not be cured without the mind. This he continued is the reason why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas because they are ignorant of the whole.” It was Hippocrates the Father of Medicine who said: “In order to cure the human body it is necessary to have a knowledge of the whole of things.” Paracelsus wrote: Only he who grasps the innermost nature of man can cure him in earnest. (1)

(2) “In all countries, at all times people have believed in the existence of miracles, in more or less rapid healing of the sick at places of pilgrimage, at certain sanctuaries. But after the great impetus of science during the nineteenth century such belief has completely disappeared. Such is still the attitude of many physiologists and physicians. However, in view of facts observed during the last fifty years this attitude cannot be sustained.

Probably the most important cases of miraculous healing have been recorded by the Medical Bureau of Lourdes. Outstanding examples in our country are the Shrine of St. Anne, the clinic of Dr. Locke in Canada and the Thought Control Clinic of the Boston Dispensary all of which I think you are familiar.

That Mary Baker Eddy in a little more than a decade built an empire greater than that of Julius Caesar must impress us with the fact that we cannot dismiss these matters without some consideration. “Physicians(9) are daily becoming more interested in these extraordinary facts. The committee on Medicine and Religion of the New York Academy of Medicine presided over by Dr. F. Peterson has recently sent to Lourdes one of its members in order to begin a study of this important subject.”

Read before the Portland Dental Society, Portland, Maine, April 8 1936.

E. A. Strecker in Mental Hygiene states: “It is not an over estimation to say that fully fifty percent of the problems of the acute stages of an illness and seventy-five percent of the difficulties of the valescene have their primary origin not in the body but in the mind or the patient. The divorce of the mental form the physical is a grave source of error.” (8)

Dental caries, acknowledge to be one of the most universal of human afflictions, has been traced back at least one hundred and twenty-five thousand years to the Rhodesian man and through the succeeding centuries its occurrence is apparent in ancient Egypt, Greece, Assyria and in fact everywhere, where man has displayed those advantages of his progress which we term the influence of civilization. It is only the races remote from civilization and living in their primitive state, that have escaped its ravages.

The prevalence of caries among the races that have come in contact with civilization has in the past, by most writers, been attributed to diet.

The conflicts that have raged in the minds of these people as the result of this change from the habits and customs innate for unknown centuries has not been given the thought and consideration that such an important factor deserves.

(4)”The Eskimo, in their primitive state, are described by historians as a peace loving non-belligerent people. As happy and contended a people as could be desired.”

Continual quarreling is punishable by death. There is no repression among the children, they having the right of entry to any house and to partake of whatever food that may be there, at any time. They marry early, often at the age of twelve, thus escaping adolescence, so beautifully paraphrased by Stanley Hall: “The period in which idealism flowers, and rebellion waxes strong, a period during which difficulties and conflicts are absolutely inevitable.”

This period is experienced by every normal girl and boy in civilized countries and it is a period during which we find oft dental caries most difficult to control. Thus it would seem that the psychic trauma experienced by all civilized peoples is unknown to the primitive Eskimo, and so far as I am able to learn this is true of all people in all latitudes from the arctic to the South Sea Islands who are now living, or have lived, in their primitive state and are free from dental caries.

Happy in SpiritSound in Body

Early explorers among the island of Polynesia state: “These Islanders are undoubtedly the most happy inhabitants of the earth. There is excellent ordering of family like and fondness for children.”

(5)Dr. Weston A. Price in an article (March Dental Digest), “Why Dental Caries With Modern Civilization,” Fields Studies in Kenya, Uganda, Belgian Congo, Sudan and Egypt, states: “The happiness of these people in their homes and community life is everywhere striking. A mining prospector who had spent two decades studying the mineral deposits of Uganda was quoted to me as stating if he could have the heaven of his choice in which to spend all eternity it would be to live in Uganda as the natives Uganda had lived before modern civilization came to it.(5)

While slavery of the old form no longer exists in the so-called civilized countries, in a new form it is tragic reality for many of the people. Taxes and new demands are required by the new order of living. For many of these primitive tribes a new suit of clothes could formerly be had every day with no more trouble than cutting a new banana leaf. With the new order they are requested to cover their bodies with clothing. Cloth of all kinds, including the poorest cotton, has to be imported. They must pay an excessive charge owing to the ling transportation cost of the imported goods which often exceeds the original cost in the European or American markets several fold. In order to pay their head tax, they are often required to carry such products as can be used by the government officials, chiefly foods, over long distances for a part of each year. These often include the very foods that the adults and particularly the growing children need to provide body growth and repair. This naturally has produced a current of acute unrest and a chafing under the foreign domination.

The native of Africa is not only chafing under the taxation of the foreign overloads but is conscious that his rave becomes blighted when met by our modern civilization. I found them well aware of the fact that those of their tribes who adopted European methods of living and foods, not only developed rampant tooth decay but other degenerative processes.”

Dr. Alexis Carrell states:(2)“The environment, which has moulded the body and the soul of our ancestors during many millenniums has 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 living beings.

Our dental literature is saturated with opinion and hypotheses concerning dental caries. There is scarcely a dental journal published that does not contain one or more articles pertaining to it. Mouth hygiene, heredity, diet, endocrines, calcium metabolism and vitamins have all been discussed, with no definite conclusions.

Some of the views are well considered and founded upon exhaustive research. Many of them have much in common while many are at variance. Because of this situation the dental profession is left in a maze of bewilderment. It is the purpose of this paper to join the links in the chain of theories to formulate a solution of this problem.

Of the many investigations past and present the studies and observation of Miller and Black seem to hold fast and are gaining momentum with ever new discovery made in the effort to ascertain the etiology of dental caries.

Acidity and Alkalinity in the Diet

Recently some very interesting work was done in Hawaii by Jones, Sarsen and Pritchard, purporting to show that the acid base balance of tissue fluids is a fundamental factor involved.

This latest of theories has created much interest in professional circles and caused much controversy. Various factors, both dietary and environmental, were given consideration as being responsible for the susceptibility or immunity of the enamel to decay but it was felt that the potential acidity or alkalinity of the diet was the principal underlying cause of the two phenomena.

The conclusion was reached that all evidence indicates that dental decay is primarily a systemic disorder, an imbalance perhaps in the tissue fluids and oral secretions in a direction of a decrease in basic ions, either relative or absolute, and it is believed that any type of diet, any factor or combination of factors which tend to decrease the relative or absolute amount of base in tissue fluids, will proportionately increase the liability to decay.

All investigation clinical and otherwise point to the endocrines as being the factors in this control and there is such a close correlation between all of these glands that a disturbance of any one is transmitted to another.

C. C. Furnas of Yale in his book, “The Next Hundred Years,” States: “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 body reactions the nervous system took secondary place and the hormones secreted by the glands were found to control the most important chemical reactions of the body.

Less than one two thousandths of an ounce of thyroxine is all that stands between Einstein and imbecility.

Endocrines Control Our Activities

No one has the slightest idea of how these hormones do their work. Whatever the mechanism of their reactions may be, these glands of ours lord it over us every second of our lives. The different parts of the animal body are not allowed to perform as they see fit. They are regulated to the nth degree, even more than convent pupils. The endocrines help to control our heart beat and respiratory rate, they tell us when to start growing and when to stop,they see that our food is properly handled, they cause hair to grow on a man’s face and prevent it from growing on a woman’s, they urge us to reproduce, and take charge of proceedings at childbirth and nursing. Indirectly they affect the mental activity, the size of the feet, the nervous condition, the degree of obesity and have to do with the brain power and personality.”(6)

Reynolds the endocrinologist states: “There is a marked parathyroidgonadal correlation and the gonadal hormones undoubtedly have an influence upon the calcium metabolism.”(7)This I believe explains the prevalence of caries during adolescence and pregnancy. There being much evidence that psychic trauma disturbs the normal functioning of these glands.

Many authorities have made the implication that teeth of pregnant women decay more rapidly than those of non-pregnant women.

C. N. Johnson states: (8) “There is no acceptable evidence that pregnant women show a greater incidence of decay than non-pregnant women of similar age.” Citing a case in my own practice: The patient was twenty-five years old and previous to her first pregnancy she had but one filling. Previous to her confinement in April, she lost a brother in October, and her mother in February. During the months following decay in her teeth was rampant. She passed through three peroids of gestation following this one, with little or no decay. This phase of the periodical occurrence of caries during pregnancy I have been unable to explain, in any other way except as the result of psychic trauma.

Dr. H. Cushing(1) as long as nineteen hundred and thirteen at the opening exercises of the Henry Phipps Clinic spoke on “ Psychic Disturbances With Disorders of the Ductless Glands” stating: “Psychic conditions profoundly influence the discharges from the glands of internal secretion.”

There is no doubt that disturbances of secretion of the endocrines should be listed among the phenomena of emotion. This effect is easily observed, and is a matter of common knowledge, as for instance the lachrymal gland, the salivary gland and the experimental evidence of Pavlov, Cannon and others. Crile has demonstrated that the endocrines react to stress and strain of emotions not only biologically but also histopathologically and that changes in other organs, as in the brain and the liver, are produced.

In the book “Emotions and Bodily Changes” by H. Flanders Dunbar of Columbia a case is mentioned of an Eastern Psychiatrist. A very famous surgeon sent to him a young lady who was suffering with toxic thyroid, with the request that he get rid of some of her fears so he could operate, her pulse being so rapid that surgery could not be considered. The psychiatrist analyzed the girl and at the end of three months sent her back to her surgeon minus fears and minus her goiter.

G. R. Heyn(1)in reviewing the literature on hyperthyroidism states: “Its close connection with psychic alterations is well known.”

One Gland may Affect Other Glands

Observations are accumulating which point to the fact that frequently it is not the thyroid that is the primarily injured organ but instead that the pathological function of the thyroid comes about as a result of the influence of other endocrines, namely the gonads. The World War refocused the attention of physicians on the importance of psychic trauma in the pathogenesis of hyperthyroidism. G. Maranon in an extensive review on emotional factors in the pathogenesis of hyperthyroidism gives a short resume of forty-eight cases of goitre, following emotional shock.

The author comments that this indicates that we are not dealing with mere coincidence but with a definite participation of an emotional state in the pathogenesis of hyperthyroidism.

I. Brown states: (1) “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.

F. Glazier, cited by Dunbar, as referring to the striking constancy of the serum-calcium level in normal individuals, giving figures for five normals, calcium being tested on three different days. “This constancy is not found however in nervous individuals. Glazier showed that by suggestive influences in the direction of quieting, the calcium content of the blood can be considerably lowered. By artificially exciting the patient on one day and suggestively quieting her on another day these variations could be increased to a difference of 3.55 mgs. percent.

M. C. Ehrstrom(1) who gives an excellent review of the pertinent literature, concludes from the experiments done and from the present experiments, it appears that psychic conditions which can be characterized as states of clam begin usually with a decrease of blood calcium and peroids of restlessness with increase of blood calcium.

“The rapid advances 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 as a wonderfully 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. It is being realized that man’s behavior can no more be fully explained in terms of bones and muscles, of sinews and nerve fibres, of hormones and nerve impulses than can the flight of Lindberg to Paris be explained in terms of petrol and the internal combustion engine, necessary though these were to the journey. Something more is necessary if we are to understand man’s behavior. Besides his material body as known, there is something which may or may not be material, and which may, but possibly will never, be capable of explanation in terms of matter, that most collosal power of this world, his MIND.”(9)


E. FRED BRIGGS, Bangor, Maine.



                1. “Emotions and bodily Changes,” by H. Flanders Dunbar of Columbia. 1935.

2. “Man the Unknown,” by Alexis Carrell of Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research.

3. “Mental Hygiene” Magazine, E. A. Strecker. Vol. vii. chap. xii.

4 “The Unknown Eskimo,” by J. W. Bilby of the Royal Geog. Society.

5. Weston A Price, Dental Digest.  March 1936. “Why Dental Caries With Modern Civilization.”

6. “The Next Hundred Years,” C. C. Furnas of Yale. 1936.

7. Ralph A. Reynolds, M.D., “The Glands and Tooth Structures.” Dental Survey. 1935, Page 35.

8. C. N. Johnson, Journal of the American Dental Association. May, 1935. Vol. xxii.

9. “Psychology and Health,” by H. Bannister, Director of Psychological Studies in St. John’s College, Cambridge, England. 1935.