By Alvin Danenberg, DDS, contributing writer

June 7, 2017 -- What motivates you to save your life? I am baffled. Just recently, I was reminded of a patient from several decades ago. His particular circumstances made me think, "What motivates you to save your life?

Alvin Danenberg, DDS
Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

While I was in practice with two other periodontists in 1990, a patient came to our office for periodontal treatment. His periodontal condition was bad, but what I learned after taking his medical history was far worse.

Among other things, I learned that he had a lung removed because of cancer. He was a smoker. He had been smoking about one to two packs of cigarettes a day for more than 30 years. In 1990, it was common for me to see patients who were smokers. Most smokers still smoked because they said they enjoyed it. However, the real reasons were their addiction to smoking and their lack of motivation to quit.

My patient had a real reason to quit. He had a lung removed because of a malignancy, which was directly related to being a heavy smoker. He had all the motivation to quit smoking, because he had experienced a life-or-death medical condition. Yet, he continued to smoke! I couldn't believe that he told me he was still smoking one to two packs of cigarettes a day even after his surgery. My question for him was, "What motivates you to save your life?"

“His periodontal condition was bad, but what I learned after taking his medical history was far worse.”

Moving to the present, I learned of a similar life-or-death event with a person I know. Not a patient, but a woman I became friends with about five years ago. She had ulcerative colitis for 10 years before I met her and had been treated with high-powered pharmaceutical drugs to keep her gut inflammation under control. When I got to know her, the subject of diet came up. So, I had a conversation with her.

She was eating pasta and bread every day. I explained how these "foods" could be her downfall and could have contributed or even caused her ulcerative colitis. She was not interested in my ideas, and we never discussed it again until her recent incident.

About 10 months ago, she had a severe flare-up with her gut disease. It caused a perforation of her large intestine and life-threatening complications. Not only did she require surgery to remove part of her colon, but she also developed a severe blood clot in her leg. The clot resulted in the amputation of her right leg below the knee. Fortunately, she survived and is recovering remarkably well under the circumstances.

When I found out about her ordeal and eventual recovery, my first question to her was, "Did the doctors talk to you about your diet?"

Her answer was that the doctors told her to eat whatever she wanted and that it did not cause obvious problems. I then asked her specifically if she cut out grains from her diet. Her answer to me was, "Pasta and breads are the things I love. I can't live without them."

Her response immediately reminded me of my patient from decades ago who just continued smoking after his lung was removed from cancer. The same question overcame my thoughts, "What motivates you to save your life?"

I guess all of us are individuals who need to put a value on our lives and a value on the "enjoyments" we feel "are necessary to live." My thoughts are obviously not the same as the patient who had lung cancer but continued to smoke and not the same as my friend who had various body parts removed but continued to eat foods that were harmful.

I keep going back to the basics. Eat the foods that sustain your body, and eliminate the harmful foods and toxic substances that destroy your body. These are simple facts that have allowed humans to evolve and thrive for tens of thousands of years. Quality of life is everything to me.

My body is the only machine I will live in for the rest of my life. I need to keep it in tip-top shape.

A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. appreciates the opportunity to reprint it. His book Crazy Good Living is available on July 15, 2017, by Elektra Press.

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

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2017

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