These days, the world is at our fingertips. We can communicate with others in seconds, and we often expect the same in return. It’s hard to find mere seconds of time for ourselves, so we try to squeeze as much out of those seconds as possible. We’d all do well to make time for a little self-care, including activities such as meditation. With this in mind, I developed a technique that should help you and your patients reclaim a couple of minutes a day to allow your brain to reset and recharge.
We experience lots of mental and physical strains that bring about stress. Stress produces cortisol, which releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines are known to promote anxiety and depression, increase blood pressure, disrupt sleep, and exhaust mental and physical resources. Meditation reduces stress and the effects it has on the body.1
- Stress management techniques can benefit both your career and patients
- Close your eyes
- Mental health for the dental professional
To understand how meditation plays a part in reducing stress, we need to understand how brain waves work. Right now, you are reading this article and are unaware that your brain is currently functioning at a midrange beta wave (16–22 hertz) because you are learning and at focused attention. The human brain does most of its work between low- and midrange beta waves. It becomes a problem when we switch into high-range beta waves (22–50 hertz). These patterns occur during stressful situations where survival chemicals kick in to help save us.2
We usually aren’t in any real danger when stressed, but the body responds as if danger is present because of hyperfocus, worry, and rumination on a problem. Sadly, when the brain is functioning at high-range beta waves, we are too amped up to problem-solve, create, dream, or even learn. Yet this is where we spend most of our time because of deadlines, “emergencies,” anxiety, pain, frustration, fear, etc. We are probably focusing so much on the stressor that it’s hard to stop. The world isn’t helping matters when it’s asking us to be the best, know all the answers, and hold it all together or become a victim of our circumstances.
To think about this a different way, think of the brain as the system of all operations in the body. We know this system controls the heartbeat, temperature regulation, blood pressure, immune system, breathing, and much more. Now imagine if that system of operations is out of balance. Do you think the imbalance would affect all areas it controls? Knowing this, you would probably be motivated to work on yourself to make sure your system of operations is in working order, or at least do a little here and there to help.
This is where meditation comes in to help break up the high-range beta and move into an alpha brain wave state of mind. What does this have to do with dental hygiene? I have developed a way to fit in meditation using an electric toothbrush. This will not only encourage patients to purchase an electric toothbrush of their own, but will also make them excited to brush their teeth twice a day. In order to change a habit, one must have a better offer because of reward-based learning. Our minds are constantly seeking out the “bigger, better offer” to begin a new habit.3 We don’t always think of brushing our teeth as a fun habit, but if you can attach brain health and overall body health to brushing, the brain may switch its priorities to include it as the better habit in one’s daily routine.
This is what I have asked my patients to do and have had great success. I call it the Rutar Toothbrush Meditation Technique. All you need is an electric toothbrush and two minutes of your time, which ironically is the recommended time to brush one’s teeth!
This technique consists of using an electric toothbrush to focus on one’s self during two minutes of toothbrushing. My instructions to patients include the following:
- Close your eyes.
- Take deep breaths and exhale through the nose while brushing.
- Listen to the white noise of your toothbrush.
- Focus on the angle of the toothbrush and how it feels along the teeth and gums, making sure to get along all surfaces in a slow motion (preferably a Bass brush method).
- Think only about the sensation you feel, the sound you hear, and the taste of the toothpaste in your mouth to help stay in the moment.
This may seem like a simple process, but there is some science behind my technique. When you close your eyes, you take away 80% of external sensory information and allow the brain to focus inward.2 Listening to the gentle hum of the toothbrush also decreases sensory input. Breathing in deep allows the brain to switch over to the parasympathetic nervous system where rest and digestion occurs. This inward focus also triggers the brain to slow down and move into alpha waves, where creativity, inspiration, and information are stored in the gray matter. One begins to relax and become less concerned with the outside world. The next steps (4 and 5) could be referred to as focused meditation—not to be mistaken for mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation involves allowing your thoughts to flow through you and observing those thoughts without judgment. Focused meditation involves concentrating on any of your five senses to help stay in the present.4 If your mind does begin to wander, it’s important to come back to the present and refocus. This is critical because stress occurs when one is thinking about the past or the future and will jump the brain back into high-range beta waves.
The Rutar Toothbrush Meditation Technique encourages patients to look forward to four minutes a day to help calm their nerves, switch to a relaxed state of mind, and slowly transition into the next step of their day. When patients look forward to doing something, habits change!
As hygienists, we are always looking for new ways to help patients brush better and twice a day consistently. By using the Rutar Technique, you will not only help patients change their habits, but will help them improve their overall health, starting with their oral- and mental-health needs.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the December 2021 print edition of RDH magazine.
- Thorpe M, Link R. 12 science-based benefits of meditation. Healthline. October 27, 2020. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation
- Dispenza J. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One. Hay House. 2012:188-194.
- Brewer J. Unwinding Anxiety. Penguin Random House. 2021:159-161.
- Bertone H. Which type of meditation is right for me? Healthline. October 2, 2020. Accessed August 22, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/types-of-meditation