Pain, the Senses and the Stomach

"Down the hatch" is a great lead-in or toast before putting something delicious in your mouth, but it has also crept in as an expression before taking an unpleasant dose of medicine. "Open wide" is similar because it's used for feeding someone a sweet chunk of cake or giving a baby a spoonful of bananas, as well as for getting a dental patient to open up for mostly unpleasant tastes and objects.

Craving a bite of food comes with the anticipation built up through sight, smell and hunger -- all adding to the enjoyment of the taste buds. Anticipating a dental visit, on the other hand, can assault the senses with a very different set of experiences for the eyes, nose, ears and mouth. It is doubtful that many individuals enjoy the smell of teeth being drilled and pulsed as hardened plaque, calculus and bits of old dental work and decaying teeth are broken down. It's no wonder the stomach can react to the bad sensory stuff as well as the good.

Add to these senses pain, discomfort, fear and even memory of past dental visits, and the connection between the mouth and stomach is even stronger. Feeling the hurt of the teeth in the pit of the stomach may be partly psychological or psychosomatic in that it conjures feelings and responses before a single sharp tool makes it into a patient's mouth. At root, though, the mouth-to-stomach connection is a natural progression from one part of the body to another and often the body responds to pain or discomfort by radiating the sensations through the nerves.

Using fluoride, Novocaine or other numbing agents, pain killers or even anesthesia all help alleviate pain during and after dental work is performed, but what helps the mouth can really do a number on the stomach, especially if it's empty. Medications of all kinds usually come with instructions for taking with food or on a full stomach or sometimes on an empty stomach, but agents used for dental procedures are formulated for the mouth and aren't dispensed to a patient beforehand. Unfortunately, during dental work, swallowing, spraying and trickling of saliva mixed with medicine is fairly common, no matter the preponderance of water sprays and suction tubes going in and out of the mouth while the teeth are getting fixed or cleaned.

And what about all of that activity taking place in your mouth while you're in the chair? We'll look at some other sickening dental procedures and preventions, next.