… Move your body. Whether you love dancing in your living room, walking your dog, or hitting the gym, there is really no replacement for daily exercise. It has SO many benefits beyond a slimmer physique. It can support the gut microbiome, strengthen our immune system, and improve our mental health. I think most people feel overwhelmed with the idea of an exercise routine or guilty if they can’t maintain one. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Even stretching moves water throughout your body and helps with hydration. Nothing has done more for my daily movement routine than adopting a dog. Twice daily walks ensure that even when I’m at my busiest and most stressed, I’m guaranteed to get outside, breathe fresh air, stretch my legs, and get my heart rate up. Don’t overthink this — just start moving.
The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ariana Ebrahimian.
Ariana Ebrahimian, DDS, maintains a private practice in Scotts Valley, CA, with an emphasis on integrative health, dental sleep medicine, airway-centric orthodontics, and temporomandibular disorders (TMD). As a functional dentist, she is also an advisor for Biocidin Botanicals.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I grew up in a dental family: my father is a dentist, many of my uncles are dentists, and that was my only summer job for as long as I can remember. So I got to see firsthand how oral health impacts the rest of the body and how important oral health is to total body health. That motivated me to pursue dentistry myself, and it was such a blessing to be able to join my family in practice. I graduated right around the end of the first cosmetic dentistry wave and the beginning of a more systemic health-oriented movement in dentistry. We were on the leading edge of dental sleep medicine, treating sleep apnea with dental devices and orthodontics. Now that has morphed again into more of a “functional dentistry” approach, trying to get at the root cause of so many of the dental diseases we see and then connect how that impacts the entire human system.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I graduated from dental school, I immediately began curating my own post-graduate education. The very first class I took was a four-part mini-residency with my mentor, Dr. Bill Hang, who is an orthodontist who was looking at the relationship between the way the jaws are positioned in the face and how that impacts the airway. One of the things he opened our eyes to was how underdeveloped jaws can push the tongue back into the airway, narrowing it and making people more at risk for snoring and sleep apnea. I was in this course with my parents, and we all looked at each other, realizing that my younger sister was exhibiting a lot of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea that Dr. Hang was discussing. We decided to get her tested for sleep apnea, and she tested positive. What we now understood was that the headgear used as part of her orthodontic treatment in her adolescence essentially pulled the jaws back in her face, pushing her tongue into her airway, and contributed to her sleep apnea. She made the very courageous decision at the age of 21 to have double jaw surgery to reverse the prior orthodontic treatment and is now a thriving dentist herself. Being with her on this journey completely changed the trajectory of my career and ignited my passion for working with children to prevent this. It made me look at how I could take a different approach to orthodontics so that I could help prevent what my sister experienced rather than potentially contributing to it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt, my parents were so instrumental in getting me to where I am today. They were the ones who introduced me to dentistry and showed me what a rewarding profession it is. They also led by example with their own health and wellness. My mom was running Division 1 track and cross country for the University of Oregon when she met my dad, so running became a cornerstone of their relationship. While I was never crazy about the sport growing up, watching them continually challenge themselves and accomplish their running goals inspired me to start marathoning with them after dental school. We would leave work together, lace up our running shoes, and hit the pavement. When you train for your first marathon, you don’t run longer than 20 miles until race day. So when you step over mile marker 20 for the first time during the actual race, you’re in uncharted territory: Will I make it to the finish? Do I have enough left in the tank? How will my body and mind respond? I learned so much about my own grit, determination, and resiliency during those years of training with my parents. It gave me the confidence to meet every challenge since then head on. And those hours upon hours of running the open road with my parents (and still never beating them!) are memories I will cherish forever.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Effective communication. As a dentist, I am leading my patients towards better health; as a business owner, I lead my team of employees; and as an educator, I’m leading my profession forward. All of this requires excellent communication in order to be effective. I spend a tremendous amount of time honing my communication skills, learning about behavioral styles, how to motivate others, and how to create consensus rather than compromise. Such a large part of good communication is actually the ability to listen. Everyone wants to be heard and feel valued. I’ve realized over the years that asking questions rather than jumping to provide answers can be far more useful in moving a conversation forward.
- Courage. One of my first cases as a new dentist was with a 9-year-old girl who needed orthodontic expansion. We were going to do a preventative treatment called Orthotropics, and I knew that the changes we were going to make would look a little awkward mid-treatment, and I would get feedback from people in the community or other doctors. It was a risk to my reputation as a new doctor, but I knew it was the right thing to do, and I was confident that the end result was going to be incredible if we just could get through it. We did, and she got a spectacular result! We published the case, it won an award, and one of the most vocal critics ended up becoming one of our biggest referral sources. It was not only very gratifying, but it confirmed that “the right thing is always the right thing.”
- Humility. This is very important to me, especially as a healthcare provider. The doctor-patient relationship is inherently unequal because a patient will rarely have the breadth and depth of knowledge that the doctor has. The onus is on the doctor to always act in the patient’s best interest. Sometimes that means admitting you don’t know the answer to something or that you lack the skills needed to provide the necessary care. You must have the humility to acknowledge your shortcomings and point your patient in the direction of someone who can help. Ironically, it will create more trust and confidence in the relationship than if you let your ego take control.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
Dentistry as a profession is treating a lot of downstream symptoms and really not getting to the cause of things. One of the things that makes me an authority in this area is my knowledge and appreciation of the root causes of poor oral health and my ability to come up with solutions to get at that root cause.
I am one of the only practitioners I know of that really marries a number of different things in the dental health field. I’m able to address airway issues with my unique approach to orthodontics for children and adults, I’m able to address oral dysbiosis with my understanding of the oral-gut connection, and I’m able to help people with craniofacial pain (TMJ problems) with my neuromuscular philosophy. There are very few practices in the country that do all of that.
Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.
When I was in my early twenties, my doctor suggested I have a carotid artery scan because of some genetic markers in my family that put me at higher risk for heart attack. I was shocked to learn that my arteries were 11 years older than my chronological age. My doctor told me I could not sustain this discrepancy and recommended I start taking a statin. I declined and spent the next decade tuning up my diet and exercise. I did stool tests to optimize my microbiome. I took supplements. I made sure all of my other biomarkers were as great as they could be. Ten years later, I took the same carotid artery scan and was devastated that despite my lifestyle changes, my arteries were still 11 years older than my chronological age. At that same time, I learned about the health benefits of intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating and decided to give it a go. I started to eat within a 6–8 hour window every day and occasionally take full-day fasts. I changed nothing else but how many hours a day I consumed food. One year later, I took another carotid artery scan, and lo and behold — my arteries were the same age as I was. I had reversed 11 years of arterial aging. I was so surprised I asked the lab to double-check the results! That launched my journey to really take charge and optimize my own health, whether that be tracking my daily activity metrics and sleep cycles with wearable technology, wearing a continuous glucose monitor to understand how my body responds to what I’m eating, and continuing to practice time-restricted eating, my goal is to have the longest healthspan possible.
Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)
- You need to be able to breathe. It sounds obvious, but an alarming number of people cannot breathe well both at night (snoring and sleep apnea) and during the day (think allergies, chronic stuffy nose, mouth-breathing). If you can’t properly oxygenate, it affects every cell in your body. You can’t think straight, it causes depression, it creates inflammation, and it puts you at higher risk for diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
And it starts young. I have children who come in with sleep apnea, but instead of being diagnosed with that, they are told they have ADHD — a common misdiagnosis because the lack of quality sleep is actually causing the behavioral issues. These kids can’t sit still, they can’t focus in class, and they are being labeled as troubled students when really the problem is they can’t breathe at night! We help these children with orthodontic expansion, and it can literally change their life.
- Prioritize your oral health. Brushing and flossing are not just about fresh breath and pearly white teeth. Basic oral hygiene removes the dental plaque that causes localized inflammation in the form of cavities, bleeding gums, and eventual bone loss, known as periodontal disease. We swallow a liter of saliva in a day, so the bacteria in our mouth do not stay confined to just our mouth. When we have really dangerous, inflammatory bacteria in our mouth, they make their way down to our gut and create inflammation there. They make their way into our bloodstream and create inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and they make their way into our brain and create inflammation in the brain. So there really isn’t an area that isn’t affected by what’s happening in the mouth. It is a gateway to total body health. You cannot be healthy in the rest of your body if your mouth is not healthy. Full Stop.
- Be in community. Having meaningful relationships is absolutely essential to longevity and is a hallmark of our humanity. Studies have shown that loneliness is correlated with poor health outcomes, and I think the pandemic really brought to light just how disastrous it can be for mental health. The UK even has a “Minister for Loneliness” to help address this problem at a government level. My 97-year-old grandfather still goes to church every Sunday, regularly visits with his family, and after his wife passed away, moved into a senior community where he can engage with others.
- Learn to cook. Food is one of the most powerful medicines we take every day. What we choose to put into our bodies is one the easiest ways to influence our health — for the better or the worse. When we outsource our meals to companies that process food into unrecognizable ingredients, textures, and packaging, we lose all of the incredible health benefits that whole foods can afford us. Learning to cook empowers you to fuel your body for a long, healthy life. It can make healthier meals more affordable. It can build community as you gather around the table to share a meal. And it can be a legacy that you pass down to future generations. Prevention begins on your plate.
- Move your body. Whether you love dancing in your living room, walking your dog, or hitting the gym, there is really no replacement for daily exercise. It has SO many benefits beyond a slimmer physique. It can support the gut microbiome, strengthen our immune system, and improve our mental health. I think most people feel overwhelmed with the idea of an exercise routine or guilty if they can’t maintain one. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Even stretching moves water throughout your body and helps with hydration. Nothing has done more for my daily movement routine than adopting a dog. Twice daily walks ensure that even when I’m at my busiest and most stressed, I’m guaranteed to get outside, breathe fresh air, stretch my legs, and get my heart rate up. Don’t overthink this — just start moving.
Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?
- It’s difficult to enjoy life if you don’t have your health. So really prioritize that. Your body is a temple, and you only get one of them. If you treat it well and with respect, it can give back to you in so many incredible ways.
- Having a purpose in life, something you’re passionate about. A quote by theologian Frederick Buechner really encompasses this: “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” If you can find a vocation, that’s a pretty incredible thing.
- Get a dog. Having a dog can increase the diversity of your microbiome, helps release oxytocin (the love hormone), and it can get you up and moving. Never mind that they are a bundle of unconditional love.
Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?
I think it’s absolutely a combination of both. Genetics can predispose us to certain things, but there is tremendous potential to influence how genes express themselves. To use a gardening analogy: your family gives you the seed, but how you grow that seed (how fertile is the soil, how often do you feed it, do you love it, do you weed it) will influence how that plant grows.
Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?
I am a person of faith, so I have always trusted that any challenge or setback is there for a reason. Either it wasn’t meant to be, or something better is yet to come. That doesn’t necessarily make the challenge any easier in the moment, so keeping my father’s words “This too shall pass” in mind has always gotten me through the toughest moments. It may sound cheesy, but NASA recently released photographs from the new Webb Space Telescope, and I have one of them set as the lock screen on my phone to remind myself that whatever challenge I’m experiencing is but a flicker in the Universe.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.” Dag Hammarskold. I love this quote because it’s all about gratitude. I try to make gratitude a daily practice in my life — talk about increasing health and longevity. When you’re in gratitude, you cannot also be in fear or anger, or anxiety. When the pandemic hit in 2020, and my dental practice had to close, there was so much fear and anxiety. How long would we stay closed? What did that mean for our patients? How could I support my employees now that all of us were unemployed? Was it ever going to be safe to go back? Dentistry was listed as the number one highest risk profession during COVID. I was spiraling and often found myself in despair. One of my mentors suggested a daily gratitude journal. Every evening I wrote down five things for which I was thankful. Some days I struggled to find five, but as the habit took root, I found my despair dissolving into acceptance and acceptance transforming into resolve. I regrouped, came up with a plan, and did everything in my power to come back from our hiatus ready to serve our patients. We had our most successful year ever in 2020, and that has definitely been added to my gratitude journal.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would have every child screened for a sleep-breathing disorder the way they are screened for scoliosis. As I said before, if you can’t breathe, it affects every cell in your body. It creates physical, emotional, and mental health problems. But the earlier you can catch it, the easier it is to treat, and the sooner you treat it, the sooner you can get these children back to living full, healthy lives.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry
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For more information, please also visit https://biocidin.com/pages/dentalcidin-oral-care
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.