Beauty is not just skin deep — it’s deeper

Ever wondered why the girl next door has beautiful glowing skin but doesn’t eat the healthy foods that you do? Your skin looks tired and run-down, despite the litres of water and wholesome foods you are consuming. Why?

The answer may lie in the structure and function of your mouth. This blog discusses how symptoms such as chronic headaches or a “bad dental bite” can drive mechanisms in the body that lead to poor quality skin. In addition, factors such as high stress or poor sleeping habits can further impact the health of your skin.

A significant number of Australians suffer with one or multiple skin conditions. A 1999 survey published by Melbourne’s St. Vincent’s hospital suggested at least 15 per cent of medical consultations where primarily for skin disorders. These disorders ranged from minor skin conditions right through to severe debilitating diseases. Interestingly, the survey found that the majority of Australians preferred “not to bother their doctors” with their skin conditions. They instead chose to seek treatment advice from their pharmacist, family and friends or “self-diagnosed” and treated themselves. In this latter category, I recall the overly-helpful father from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who believed that every ailment from psoriasis to Poison Ivy could be cured with Windex!

Window cleaners aside, there exists a subset of chronic skin conditions whose cure can be found in fixing the nervous system. In this category are cases of psoriasis (often causing red itchy skin), as well as complaints such as cold and clammy skin and non-healing skin ulcers. When no known medical causes can be found such as diabetes or skin infections, then it may be worth investigating whether the nervous system is responsible for your poor skin condition.

Let me explain a little further. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) comprises a complex array of nerves that constantly regulate our heart rate, breathing, digestion – and play a key role in dealing with stress. A major component of this autonomic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is “switched on” when we encounter a stressful situation and reacts in a way that is commonly called the “flight or fight response”.

This stress response worked perfectly fine for our ancestors when they encountered a grizzly bear (like the one pictured on the left) or were being threatened by a fellow tribesman. The danger could be seen, was dealt with, and a few minutes later their bodies were quickly restored to a calm and placid state.

The effects of a stressed-out nervous system are seen in the diagram below. Dilated pupils, a faster heart rate or poor digestion are some of the signs that may indicate that your nervous system is locked into this high stress state. The corresponding constant release of stress hormones from the kidneys results in “adrenal fatigue” and your skin may feel cold and lifeless. Our nervous system shunts blood and nutrition away our skin and into our internal organs getting ready to deal with the grizzly bear that never retreats.

Skin can be affected


Now fast-forward to our modern lifestyle: our entire generation has become so far removed from that of our ancestors that it is common to observe patients in a chronic “stress state”. For these unfortunate patients, their sympathetic nervous system remains “switched on” all day long. The effects on their health (and skin) are extremely detrimental.

I am always intrigued by the high percentage of people being diagnosed with adrenal fatigue or an under-active thyroid. Quite often they are told that the answer to these problems are they must be “very stressed”. Whilst this may be true, there are many reasons for the depletion of our stress hormones. Unfortunately, many people are totally oblivious to the many grizzly bears living inside them. They cannot perceive the threats and insults their bodies are being exposed to on a daily basis.

Apart from emotional stress, chronic pain, poor breathing and a “bad dental bite” may all contribute to burn-out of the sympathetic nervous system as shown in the diagram below:

Any of these four triggers causes brain stress and creates an alarm state in certain part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus gets the rest of the body to immediately release stress hormones such as cortisol, which releases blood sugar from the liver. The kidney pumps out adrenalin, which increases our heart rate. The thyroid releases thyroxine, which quickens our metabolic rate. The impact on the body is the same: a flight or fight response.

On the topic of a bad dental bite, a Chicago-based dentist, Dr Al Fonder, once reported on a 39-year-old male who suffered with unrelenting psoriasis, chronic allergies and yearly hospitalisation for pneumonia. A specialist treating this unfortunate person at the time felt that his bad dental bite was partly to blame for his symptoms. Dr Fonder later saw this patient, who later built up his worn-down teeth to fix his bad bite. Here is what happened after his dental treatment:

  1. After two days he no longer needed his allergy pills.
  2. A further three days later, the itching from his psoriasis stopped, the skin on his legs stopped bleeding and it no longer appeared scaly.
  3. Four years later, other numerous problems that he suffered were gone including his sinusitis, rhinitis, psoriasis and scoliosis (crooked spine).

Actual photographs showing improvements to this man’s body posture and skin are shown below:

This single dramatic case study demonstrated that Dr Fonder was able to switch off this man’s sympathetic nervous system by finding the major causes for his stress. It comes as no surprise to me that correcting this man’s bad dental bite would have also improved his breathing and posture. A decrease in his stress levels would have followed as he began to see the rapid improvement in his symptoms.

In conclusion, it would be truly amazing if doctors, dermatologists and dentists collaborated more closely to alleviate the unnecessary suffering of so many people with skin disorders. As the late Nelson Mandela aptly once said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”


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