Dental Care vs. Mental Care

Over the last couple of months, I have been fairly consumed with my mother’s Alzheimer’s.  She has been struggling with the disease for a few years now, but it seems to have taken a turn for the worse over the last 60 days.  It is a disease that affects not only the patient but also their caregivers and everyone around, kith and kin.  As I reflected on her deteriorating quality of life, I wondered if there could be something that could help us take better care of our brain.  Again, since I am neither a physician nor an expert on Alzheimer’s, I apologize in advance if I say something out of school or offend anyone with my perspective.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the brain and no one seems to have fully figured out the exact cause or cure for this cruel disease that seems to be afflicting so many people all across the globe.  Modern medicine has been unable to find cures for several such ailments of the body which seem to stem from the mind.

It is my belief that a significant factor that contributes to these illnesses is poor mental hygiene.  Most of us just don’t take good care of our brains and emotional health.  We are not taught how or why it is so important to do so.  Our need for evidence and proof that good mental care is key to preventing a whole host of ailments is yet to be published widely and therefore it is not something that is part of our daily habits.  While science is making great strides in this arena, the practice of brain care is still fairly new.

Most of us are taught to spend at least two minutes on brushing our teeth in the morning and before going to bed.  Parents make it a point to instill this habit in their children.  We take so much time to teach our children this habit, when the negative consequence of skipping brushing is simply tooth decay and dentures serve as a perfectly appropriate substitute for a set of good teeth and many see it as a natural consequence of aging.

Contrast this with brain decay, a consequence of aging and not taking good care of our brains and our minds—be it physical or mental care.  Even with no substitute like dentures, we still don’t seem to pay enough attention to adequately protect our brains from possible concussions during sports or provide enough relaxation or calm for our minds to mitigate the stress and strain of everyday life.

Our children are so involved in contact sports while our lives are getting more hectic and complicated as adults.  I was told by a PR person that the only way to get someone’s attention these days is by showing gory pictures or creating shocking headlines.  All this does is to further increase the noise in our minds.

So, since we are all so busy in our lives, I ask, “Why don’t we skip brushing our teeth to save time?”  In fact, some do and businesses are always around to make products to capitalize on a need.  These products of convenience; they come at a cost—both in terms of price and long-term quality of life.  But most don’t skip brushing their teeth as it has become a widely accepted habit.

In fact, on a recent flight from Dubai to India, I read an article in The Times of UK about dentists being divided over the best way to brush.  Nigel Carter, the chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation said, “There’s no real evidence on which is the best way of tooth-brushing.  They will all have drawbacks and benefits. It’s based on habit and there’s no robust research.”  He also said that it was not probably necessary for children to brush for two minutes but establishing that habit during supervised brushing up to the age of seven ensured that it would be carried on into later life.

Many automatic tooth brushes have timers to guide you to brush for two minutes.  Both tools and a host of people including dentists, governments and makers of toothbrushes help make the case and promote the importance for good dental hygiene.

If we can spend two minutes on dental hygiene twice a day, could we not spend the same amount of time for our mental hygiene?

Simply engaging in any form of contemplative practice for a few minutes a day will prove to be extremely beneficial to your overall well-being.  What we need is a similar force that promotes dental hygiene to also highlight the importance of mental hygiene and its amazing benefits in so many areas of our lives.

Our obsession seems to be with doing more, not being more.   Make the right choice — please take the time to care for your mind and your teeth — I am positive that it will pay huge dividends for years and years.

Be well,