When considering the topic of health, oral care isn’t always considered for the vast majority. Dr. Ron Ehrlich has not only a fascinating insight into the holistic nature of oral care and the oral biome, but his studies and education have given him insight into a broad range of important health topics. As a holistic dentist he understands the greater benefits of health that come from taking care of the teeth and mouth better.
He is the current president of Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, author of A Life Less Stressed: the 5 Pillars of Health and Wellness, and also a cancer survivor. Dr. Ron Ehrlich works to share with others the understood elements of oral health and how they affect our overall well-being.
How did you get into what you do?
I got started with looking at the body as a holistic machine by chronic pain management. After a year of dental practice, I found myself often treating people with headaches, etc. Pain was often related to stress and I could see there were many issues regarding this. Of course, I was looking at dental issues like tension and grinding, and it all led me to write a book called A Life Less Stressed and I have been in practice for 42 years ever since.
I don’t hold myself up as a person who lives a life less stressed —I aim for that. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, and the more you have to learn.
An important element of the book
My book is in three parts and the first part of my book is something I think you need to follow if you want to understand and get the most out of healthcare. And that is, understanding the role of the chemical food and pharmaceutical industry in all levels of health care. It is profound and one of the reasons our healthcare system is really not a health care system. It’s a chronic disease management system that makes trillions of dollars, and is something that is very easy to miss because you think “I’m going to follow the government regulations” which is not a very good health model.
There is unfortunately a very difficult distinction between evidence based medicine and evidence based marketing.
The first part of the journey that I like to take people on is to make them understand that, the public’s health message is not everything they’ve ranked up to be and you can either throw your hands up in the air and say, “I don’t know what to believe anymore” or what you can take from that is that, your health is just too important to leave to anybody else. You’ve got to take control of it yourself, and that’s what my book and podcast is all about.
One of the things that some people do when they get into holistic care is that they don’t use any numbing agents of any kind. Have you come across that? People that use meditation as a pain medication tool in the dentist chair.
I have and I admire them greatly.
The definition of pain is this: it’s an unpleasant emotional experience caused by the activation of the pain receptors. There’s 2 parts to pain. Our ability to regulate it emotionally through our limbic system and two, it involves the activation of the pain receptor at the site of pain. If you can control the emotional part of it, facilitating and prohibiting the reaction, you will be able to achieve that.
Let’s touch on some specifics of oral health. You mentioned dentistry bringing you into the world of chronic pain. Talk about this transition of being a dentist to a pain management practitioner.
Six months after I graduated I had a patient come in that said they had a crown done 5 years ago that never really settled down. I looked at the crown and thought it seemed a little bit high and I adjusted it. They came back a week later and said it was good, and mentioned that they had a headache for the past 5 years and ever since I adjusted the crown, they haven’t had a headache.
Low and behold there was a whole area of dentistry called Temporomandibular Joint disjunction which is clenching and grinding, and its impact on muscles throughout the body and that started the journey of dental stress.
How would you define stress?
Most people would acknowledge that they are affected by stress. That is an understatement in this modern world. Even before the pandemic, most people would’ve acknowledged that and they would also acknowledge that it doesn’t have a positive impact on their health. Though, not all stress is bad. Exercise is a good example of stress.
I define a stressor that compromises health, as anything that has the potential to compromise your immune system, and promote chronic inflammation, because chronic inflammation is the common denominator in all diseases. For the last 35 years, I’ve had a 5 stressor model because if you’re going to identify and minimize stress, it helps to know what that stress is.
The 5 stressors of my 5 stressor model are emotional, nutritional, postural, environmental and dental stress. Everyone nods their head until I get to the last one. I include dental stress for 2 reasons. I’ve been a holistic dentist for 40 years so I feel reasonably well qualified to comment on it and two, I included it for anybody with a mouth who is interested in their health but has never fully connected the two, and there are many connections.
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For example, it’s the gateway to the digestive tract. Chewing your food is an important part of the digestive process. Nutrient dense foods require chewing. Interestingly, there’s even been some research coming out of Sydney University earlier this year which linked chewing ability to cognitive function; how your brain functions and develops.
The mouth is also the gateway to the respiratory tract. The size and shape of your mouth determines the size and shape of your upper airway. A narrow jaw means you have a narrow upper airway. If you have a narrow upper airway, you are predisposed to dysfunctional breathing, and sleep disordered breathing conditions. If I asked 1,000 people how many of them have 32 perfect teeth in perfect alignment, I think the number would be less than 5%. 95% of us don’t have enough room for all of the teeth we were evolved to have. We’re setting ourselves up for respiratory and sleep disorder breathing conditions.
The Most Common Infections For Humans
2 most common infections known to man, woman and child are gum disease, and tooth decay. Over 90% of the population has had some experience with that. If you’ve had a filling, that means the hardest structure in your body (tooth) has decayed because of what you’ve eaten or drank. Just imagine what that does to the rest of your body. Heart disease is still #1, cancer is #2, autoimmune diseases, over 100 diabetes, then tooth disease and gum disease… If your gums ever bleed when you brush your teeth or floss, that’s not normal. People have experience with gum disease.
Chronic inflammation is a common denominator that runs through all diseases and the most common side of that is gum chronic inflammation. Because of tooth decay, we implant more foreign material than all other health professions put together. The issue of toxicity, and biocompatibility of dental materials is important.
The mouth is such a sensitive area, and if it is out of balance or you clench your jaw, or grind your teen, you will cause problems in the muscles around the back of the neck, which could produce chronic tension, headaches and neck aches.
And then there’s the whole issue of oral cancer as well which is one of the top 10 cancers in Australia.
** Prefer To Watch? Check Out Our Livestream On A Life Less Stressed with Dr. Ron Ehrlich Here!**
What percentage of people do you think are seeing their dentist as often as they ought to?
A report came out recently in Australia and I think it’s something like over 50% of the population hasn’t seen a dentist within the last 12 months.
There are a couple reasons for that. One of them is that a lot of people, including health practitioners, access a person’s oral health by going “Are you in any pain?” and the important thing for people to understand is that, I believe over 90% of what we see going wrong with the mouth has absolutely nothing to do with the pain associated with that. Pain isn’t predominant.
Number two, this is an incredibly sensitive part of the body and people are very vulnerable. There’s a stress level there which most dentists are very very aware of.
Third, the reality of the cost involved. If you came into a dental surgery and spent even an hour or two and saw the equipment and the appliances that go with modern day dentistry, not to mention the stress level involved in doing the job, you might start to understand why it’s as expensive as it is.
Discuss some of the top epiphanies you had in writing your book or what you feel like are some of the biggest takeaways you discovered?
While we don’t have control over events or other people in the world, We do have control over how we think about those things. What we need to do is have the physical, mental and emotional resilience which allows us to change our attitude. To make better decisions about what we eat, what we think, and the way that we move.
The foundational pillar of my 5 pillar model (sleep, breathe, nourish, move and think) is unquestionably sleep. So unless you’re taking sleep seriously all the other things will be difficult to achieve.
A consistently good night’s sleep is the foundation of what we do in the modern world. And what I mean by a consistent good night sleep is it’s built up in quantity of 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Over 90% of the population get less than that. There was study done and the people who receive 6 hours of sleep a night perform just as badly as the people who get 3 hours of sleep a night. Quantity makes a difference.
How to have good quality sleep
Putting your head on the pillow is not enough. You have to breathe well while you’re asleep. Breathing well is an important part of rebuilding, rejuvenating, rebooting, the system. So many things go out of balance when you don’t have a consistently good night’s sleep. For example: hormones go out of balance. Leptin hormone tells us when we’ve had enough to eat, and helps metabolize fat, so when you have less than 7 hours of sleep your leptin levels go down. You don’t have the message that you’ve had enough to eat and everything you eat is going to go to fat.
Another hormone called Ghrelin that is in the stomach, tells us when we’re hungry which goes up and insulin resistance goes up, which causes diabetes or a pre diabetic.
Hormones go out of balance, mentally also. Part of our brain called the amygdala is a part of emotions which goes crazy without enough sleep and causes mental health problems. anxiety, depression, dementia… The drainage of waste in the brain is dependent on levels of sleep. Fertility. Testosterone levels. Immune system. DNA. DNA that operates the immune system gets down regulated. Part of DNA that handles chronic inflammation gets regulated.
If you had to start somewhere on a health journey, and continue on it, you’d always take sleep seriously.
What do you say for someone who cannot get enough sleep with their lifestyle?
Focus on sleep hygiene. There are 6 to 7 basic principles of sleep hygiene.
- Prioritize sleep. #1 priority lifestyle system. Non negotiable.
- Routine. The sun sets and rises everyday. It’s something we should get in a routine with that and be in sync with. Going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time everyday.
- Noise and light.
- Your relationship with food
- The relationship you have with liquids
- Relationship with caffeine
- Relationship with alcohol. It will get you to sleep but won’t allow you to have deep sleep.
- Do you connect with the internet before bed?
I go more in depth on the basic principles of sleep in my book.
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What is one more take away from your book that you would say is very important?
To express gratitude. We have a great deal to be grateful for. Connecting with people and expressing gratitude is an incredibly powerful tool. Good for your mental health, their mental health and good for the world.
Part of the sleep hygiene program that I talk about is about no time before bed connecting with Facebook, emails or reading the news because this is never going to be good.
If you’re fortunate enough to share your bed with a loved one, finish with 2 or 3 great things that happened every day. If you don’t have a significant other, journal it. It takes 66 days to create a habit and it could take even longer. For at least the next month or 2, practice gratitude as a conscious effort and let it become part of your day.
Allowing yourself to get a good night’s sleep allows you to have the energy to make all those decisions about how you move, nourish and think.
It’s not what you do that’s stressful, it’s how you think about it. If I thought all I did was very stressful, I wouldn’t be in very good health.