If your patient told you he or she had heartburn and took an antacid to treat it, that would be easy, wouldn't it? Most of the time, the heartburn might go away in an hour. Problem solved.
In fact, if this patient got heartburn once every four or five weeks and followed the same regimen, he or she probably would be satisfied and think nothing more of it until another attack occurred next time. Certainly, it seemed easy to resolve this occasional problem. It would be natural to think, "This is easy. I'll take another antacid."
As a periodontist, some of my patients come to me with bleeding and sore gums. Sometimes it seems to be as simple as prescribing a mouthrinse or an antibiotic to solve the immediate problem. Sometimes it seems to be as easy as demonstrating how to properly use a toothbrush and floss that appeared to take care of the problem. You've no doubt had patients such as these.
But, what if your patient told you that his or her heartburn came back every day or every other day? The antacids help a little, but the discomfort keeps coming back. That would make things more complicated and not so easy anymore.
What if the patient brushed and flossed every day but still had bleeding gums at every six-month visit to your office? The simple solution wouldn't be working anymore.
Maybe the simple solution never really worked in the first place. Maybe the easy solution was only a way to deal with the symptoms of the immediate problem without ever addressing the real cause of the problem.
What's not easy is to determine the real causes of the problem and treat the disease before it could manifest itself as heartburn or gum disease.
Stress or something deeper?
Maybe the heartburn was caused by stress. Effectively deal with the stress, and the heartburn might go away and never come back. Maybe the bleeding gums were caused by deep tartar under the gums like a splinter in your finger. Remove the tartar from under the gums, and the gum disease might go away.
But, maybe the heartburn was caused by something else at a much deeper level. Maybe bleeding gums were the results of something happening in a totally different place in the body.
Almost all diseases start at the cellular level. Something happens to the ability of a cell to perform as it was designed to perform. What happens very often to a cell is a result of the cell not having the fuel to keep running at top efficiency. Either something is blocking the correct fuel from getting into the cell, or the correct fuel is nowhere to be found.
The cell may self-destruct, causing a cascade of events throughout the body. Specific damage to specific cells may manifest itself as heartburn. Other damage to other cells may allow unhealthy bacteria to overpopulate in the body and manifest itself as gum disease.
It may be that certain foods we eat and environmental toxins to which we are exposed are hindering the body to do what it needs to do. It may be that certain nutrient-dense foods that the body needs never get into the body.
Sometimes it is easy to make an immediate problem feel better, but most of the time it is more difficult to determine the real underlying causes of the problem on a cellular level where it all began.
A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. DrBicuspid.com appreciates the opportunity to reprint it. His book Crazy-Good Living from Elektra Press is available here.
Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is drdanenberg.com.
The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.