A few years ago my (former) dentist messed up—jabbing a spinning blade into the inside of my cheek while putting the finishing touches on a filling. Yes, I yelled.
She said to her hygienist (after shoving gauze in my mouth, and sort of apologizing), “Let’s get her set up on antibiotics.”
I said (as best I could around the gauze): “No.” Shaking, stunned, but clear.
“But you know your mouth is full of bacteria, and the risk of infection…” She began to lecture.
I realized I was not afraid of my own bacteria, and that I trusted my immune system. I made her understand that I did not want to take antibiotics. No thank you.
Fairly huge moment for someone who had struggled to rebuild her health for so long, who had been subject to catching “everything going around.” I don’t know when exactly it shifted, but I didn’t mistrust my own body anymore.
Among other issues, I had battled candida overgrowth for a decade or so, and had rebuilt my gut flora by consuming vast quantities of sauerkraut. I did NOT want to wipe out the friendly little beasties who had recently recolonized my body to good effect.
At home, using a natural mouthwash that burned the gouged-out place like blazing heck, I spit blood into the sink. My cheek had already begun to blacken and swell. I spent the evening holding my Triple Warmer* meridian points to return my nervous system to its hard-won state of safety and calm.
Before bed I whispered to my reflection in the mirror, to my swollen cheek, to my wise cells and crafty microbiome, “Thank you for knowing what to do. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for protecting me from infection. I trust you.”
My body responded by healing up tout suite—and further rewarded me by no longer requiring a medication I had begun tapering down.
It might sound wacky to some, but the body responds to our love and care, and I believe that respecting our microbes is critical. I’m now reading I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong, and finding all kinds of fantastic information in its pages.
It is fascinating to learn that only 100 species of bacteria can actually make us sick–the vast majority are either neutral or helpful to us. (Even assisting the immune system! “They educate our immune system, teaching it to tell friend from foe,” Yong writes.)
But there’s still this stigma.
“Microbes are now so commonly associated with dirt and disease that if you show someone the multitudes that live in their mouth, they will probably recoil in disgust,” he writes.
I remember hearing: Your mouth is the dirtiest place on your body! (Apparently the mouth was one of the earliest arenas to undergo bacterial study.)
He later points out that shifting from the viewpoint that “all bacteria must be killed” to “bacteria are our friends and want to help us” is…equally wrong. Bacteria are neutral and have their own agendae. Symbiosis only means “living together,” not necessarily harmonious cooperation.
I get it. There was that tiny bout with MRSA—a naturally occurring bacteria that ordinarily lives under the radar in our nasal tissues. That infection took forever to get gone, and left me with a nickel-sized scar on my leg.
Yong likens our partnership with the microbiome to a relationship that takes work.
Work and love, I say. It can’t hurt. And it might help.
So go ahead. Show your microbes some love.
*governs the adrenals and fight/flight/freeze mechanism