Mindfulness As an Antidote to Inflammation

by | Jun 1, 2016 | Oral Health, Periodontal Health

mindfulness drawingWe live in a tech-driven environment, able to virtually be in many places at once. While this can simplify many aspects of our lives, it also means we’re not always inhabiting the space we’re in.

Our minds are always elsewhere.

Over time, this lack of attention and flitting from our email to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and more, can not only make a person feel trapped in a virtual community; it can have detrimental effects on your health – including, believe it or don’t, oral health.

Through recent years especially, science has shown that not only can mindfulness help us stay healthy; it can help us heal. One small but intriguing study published earlier this year in Biological Psychiatry actually provided the first evidence that mindfulness meditation training is “associated with improvements in a marker of inflammatory disease risk.”

The study focused on 35 unemployed, job-seeking, and stressed participants. For three days, half of the participants were taught formal meditation at a retreat center. The other half received relaxation training. According to a New York Times story on the study,

At the end of three days, the participants all told the researchers that they felt refreshed and better able to withstand the stress of unemployment. Yet follow-up brain scans showed differences in only those who underwent mindfulness meditation. There was more activity, or communication, among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation than the relaxation group, even though few were still meditating.

When it comes to meditation, the “ideal dose” needed to reduce unhealthy inflammation is yet unknown. But don’t let that stop you from embracing mindfulness practices.

  1. Breathe.
    We breathe all the time, but breathing with intention asks that you be still and focus on your breath by breathing in and out slowly. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Sloooooowwwwwwly. Feel your breath enter your body. Feel your body gently pushing it out. Start with one minute and work your way up.
  2. Notice your intention.
    Daily habits, like brushing your teeth, can be easily taken for granted. Next time you pick up your toothbrush or floss, be mindful of where you are and how you feel. Are you in a hurry? Is your intention to spend 5 minutes cleaning your teeth effectively or a quick brush with paste just to freshen your breath? Are you in front of a mirror watching yourself clean your teeth or are you brushing in the car while driving to work? Notice your habits for about a week before moving on to tip 3.
  3. Watch yourself brush and floss.
    We know you know where your teeth are, but if you watch how you’re cleaning, you’re more apt to use effective cleaning techniques. Since plaque forms every 24 hours, you need to remove it at least once during that time to prevent gum disease and decay. And that means brushing and flossing. Need to brush up on your brushing technique? Here’s a handy chart. And here’s one on proper flossing technique, as well.
  4. Change your mindset.
    Let’s face it: We all get in our own way sometimes. That can be especially true when it comes to oral hygiene. If you brush twice and floss once a day but are still having trouble with gum disease, you may not be able to see what the trouble is. Your hygienist can identify areas you may be missing, as well as habits that may be undermining your best efforts – and help you address those problems. Be open and understand that the hygienist’s goal is to help you help yourself. Their coaching is never intended as a criticism.
  5. Forgive yourself.
    There’s no shame in having gum disease. You’ve done the best you could with the resources and insight you were given. You’ll learn as you go if you’re willing to grow. And to grow, you must be willing to go forward from where you are right now with the mindset as a beginner.
  6. Healing may happen in small increments.
    Healing doesn’t happen all at once. Your level of gum disease may require more than a simple tweak in technique. Many things contribute to healing. You may need more than two routine professional cleanings a year. You may benefit from ozone or laser therapy or an antimicrobial rinse containing essential oils and herbs or changes in diet and other lifestyle habits – or any combination of these.
  7. Affirmations help break negative self-talk.
    Find a way to affirm your movement toward dental health – a phrase that focuses you on your intention.
  8. Notice.
    Look in that mirror. Go on. Get close. Only then will you and notice, really notice, how small changes are moving you closer and closer to health.
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