Specialist Dental Group has launched an on-going series of blog posts by our individual dental specialists. All views provided are the dentist’s own opinions and are posted on this blog as part of our on-going efforts to educate the public about dental issues and other matters of interest relating to dentistry and healthcare. 

25657162_sSome of us may have heard of stories where people were sick and the elders in a Chinese family went to the temple, prayed to a deity and the sick person was granted a miracle healing. The praying process usually involved some burning of incense, paper money, paper messages to the divinities, some food offering and a cash donation.

How was the miracle delivered? The manager of the temple, also acted as a spiritual healer. Upon receiving a faith donation from the family, he would give them the ‘medicine’, which is literally the ash from the container where people put their joss sticks or incense burner.

Interestingly, nowadays, if one suffers from some digestive system ailment, the person would be given a small collection of medicine, which may or may not include prescription charcoal powder, kaolin suspension and some antibiotics. The idea is simple – charcoal acts as an absorber that binds up the ‘toxins’ up to many times of its weight, the kaolin suspension (which literally is clay in water, therefore the instruction is always, ‘shake well before use’) slows the intestine down from egesting or slows down the acute diarrhea.

This practice of eating earth or soil-like substrates is known as geophagy, interestingly, occurs in animal kingdom, where it may be a normal or abnormal behaviour. It has been documented in various species of mammals, reptiles, insects and plant eating animals.

Well, kaolin can be found in nature or made in a laboratory. Ash (partly charcoal) is commonly found after plant material is burned. Many incense sticks are made of plant materials, wood or even charcoal.

In those days, probably one of the most common ailments may be food poisoning, as hygiene practices was likely sub-optimal as judged from today’s standard. Without knowing it, those spiritual healers were giving ‘contemporary medicine’ in a religious form. With some scientific explanation, no wonder those miracle ‘medicine’ worked occasionally. Without knowing it, our 21st century medical doctors are giving ‘spiritual medicine’ in a modern form. No wonder those miracle ‘medicine’ worked too. The difference is that in the old days when it did not work, the blame may have been laid on the victim’s “naughty deeds” in an earlier life but nowadays we blame it on the germs!

Would I try the old method?? I pray that no one would do that to you… On the other hand, let us put it this way, I would not suggest anyone to try it in the 21st century, except if your doctor prescribed it directly…

This attention to spiritual faith is important to healthcare to a certain extent. Each of us responds differently in the uniqueness of our own beliefs. The resources of family, friends and presence of support group lend a hand to healing process.

Ansgar Cheng pp 4A/Professor Ansgar C. Cheng is a Dental Specialist in Prosthodontics (Teeth Replacement) with Specialist Dental Group®. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor with the National University of Singapore. He has a special interest in dental implants, cosmetic dentistry and treatment of medically compromised patients, including cancer patients.

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