Dental Health Tips: The Surprising Blind Spot in the Middle of Our Faces
Our brains have a sweet spot of function for many of our conscious and subconscious activities. Through evolutionary processes the most important and efficient processes have been prioritized to first utilize the cortex of the brain’s highest energy consuming functions while the least important or least critical processes are shunted to a lower energy consuming and lower level of consciousness. As a result, the functions that command our greatest attention are those that make us aware of matters of life preservation. Those, for example, include hunger, thirst, pain avoidance, sleep, and reproduction.
Functions that continue with lower conscious awareness include digestion, blood flow, nervous system coordination and so on.
For the category of digestion, most of the somatic digestive process is programmed to function in the background of our consciousness. With few exceptions, we are not aware of the mechanics of our digestive system, except those that are out of the ordinary. For example, biting your tongue or your lip when chewing, or gas pains when bad food is ingested.
Also included in those subconscious functions are the motor activities that control the use of the teeth in preparing food for the digestive system.
Our teeth are marvels of ingenuity which function on many different planes to process food and deliver food to our esophagus and stomach. With over 1000 different combinations of how the teeth slide and close together in harmony in normal chewing; 2000 chews per 3 meals per day; with thousands of tooth contacts during subconscious bruxing, it would be impossible to control these multiple intricate movements consciously and still have the ability to focus on other higher level processes.
As a result, the control of digestive and oral functions is handed over to muscle patterns or muscle memory engrams. Engrams are learned muscular patterns that are programmed by repetitive movements. These movements are conscious until the engram takes over the function and they shift to the subconscious.
An example is when you bite your tongue or cheek, and suddenly you become acutely aware of how to chew to avoid the painfully sore area. Once a few painless chews have taken place, the engram shifts consciousness gears, so the newly learned pattern takes over and the cortical conscious brain returns to controlling other functions.
These control processes do not enter the conscious levels of the brain, and function automatically, unless they are interrupted by painful stimuli, and relearning then takes place.
It follows that because most oral digestive related functioning is on a subconscious level, we do not have the same awareness of our mouth and teeth that other parts of our body command. Even when malfunctioning, for example a deep cavity that causes pain while chewing, we quickly learn the engram that avoids chewing on that tooth, and then the painful stimulus becomes quickly forgotten while we automatically use the engram to function on a limited but subconscious level.
It is therefore no surprise that when a dentist restores a painful mouth, the most frequent patient response is “I forgot how comfortable it can be to chew again. An evolutionary adaptive response to oral pain by the processes of accommodation and sublimation, can be seen when the patient says; “I can’t believe how much pain I was in before.”
Just like other subliminal body functions, conscious lack of awareness of our oral cavity is built into our normal neural anatomy to allow our brains to handle higher level critical tasks. Most people are not conscious of a deterioration of oral function or advancing pathology until it passes the threshold of accommodation and reaches a discernible level. When the dentist detects pathology through inspection or radiographs, the element of surprise on the patient’s part is very frequent. “I didn’t know I had a cavity”.
As a result of this evolutionary progress which allows some functions to be controlled voluntarily or involuntarily, we humans have a remarkable blind spot in the middle of our faces which we happily ignore for the most part, until some minor or major pathology reminds us that we have a mouth and it unfortunately hurts.
Fortunately, the more routine daily care of brushing, flossing, and oral irrigation which you consciously perform, the less awareness you can blissfully retain of that oral blind spot in the middle of your face.
Robert Korwin DMD, MICOI, MAGD is an award-winning dental expert who has served the Middletown-Red Bank-Monmouth County area for over 35 years. His practice offers a full range of general, reconstructive and cosmetic dental procedures with an emphasis on patient comfort. Advanced Dentistry with a Gentle Touch, includes sedation dentistry, and the practice works with individuals to maximize their dental health, ensure their comfort and minimize financial concerns. For more information, please call (732) 219–8900 or book an appointment with Dr. Robert Korwin.