Dental Neglect, The Root of Most Dental Problems

December 2004

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

“NEGLECT! What do you mean NEGLECT? You have been my dentist for over a dozen years, so how could I possibly need to have all my teeth extracted?”

Jim was angry with himself. He has not routinely kept his six-month cleaning appointments, has denied treatment and he has not flossed at all in years.

“Dental Neglect” occurs when a person has the ability to acquire dental care and decides not to. Avoiding dental care can result in problems ranging from minor to catastrophic in as little as one to two years.

Jim is 52 years old and projects himself with great confidence. He stands 6’ 3” tall, has jet-black hair and a dark complexion reflective of his Italian descent. Jim is very meticulous about his appearance, and has dedicated a lot of time and effort to his health, his personal image and his career. However, he has clearly overlooked the importance of his dental health. What am I going to do without my teeth, he kept repeating over-and-over in his mind? What caused all these problems?

Plaque is the culprit, and is a sticky white film of bacteria that accumulates on your teeth. The bacteria create acid that attacks your teeth 24 hours a day causing tooth decay, tooth abscesses and gum disease infections. Plaque, on average, causes the failure of dental restorations at 10-15 years after placement. The bacteria penetrate under the margins of old fillings and crowns and are channeled directly towards the nerve of the tooth. This can ultimately lead to the need for root canal therapy or even tooth loss.

The combined infection of Jim’s tooth abscesses and gum disease could equate to large bleeding ulcers covering your entire forearm. A condition such as this would instantly bring anyone to the emergency room. So why should oral infections of the same magnitude be ignored just because we cannot see them?

Jim has procrastinated doing his dental treatment for many reasons, none of which seemed important to him at the moment. I remember several old sayings my father told me, he thought to himself.

  • Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow, What You Can Do Today
  • Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness
  • An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure

These words rang out loudly in his head, as Jim envisioned his appearance with false teeth.

Jim is now confronted with a serious psychological challenge that is comparable to losing any part of your body. Contemplating the loss of his teeth, Jim faced feelings of denial, guilt, anger, and ultimately acceptance. Acceptance is the level where he can claim responsibility for his condition, and can assume steps to achieve results. It is my fault, he calmly reflected on his drive home from the dentist.

At home, Jim discussed his dilemma with his wife, who did not extend much sympathy his way. She reminded him that he had received many phone calls reminding him of his dental appointments that he rescheduled or avoided scheduling. “You brought this on yourself because you were too busy to take time to focus on your dental problems. You should have dealt with your dental needs a long time ago.” This is not what Jim wanted to hear, but his wife was correct.

After a long and arduous debate, Jim and his conscience had to come to terms with the long overdue need of visiting his dentist. Jim realized he had avoided a serious need, and that his wife was correct by saying he should have dealt with his dental problems years ago.

Jim listened carefully as his dentist, Dr. Scott Harden, stressed the importance of his commitment to treatment. “Procrastination in dentistry results in patients limiting their treatment options, and typically adds great expense to their restorative needs.”

Jim had a variety of treatment options years ago. At this point, however, Jim faced one hard fact – all of his teeth had to be removed. His options included conventional dentures, implant supported dentures, or implant supported bridges. The good news is that great strides in dental technology provide Jim viable restorative options to replace his missing teeth. The bad news is that Jim could have prevented making this decision altogether, if he would have only been committed to his oral health. It would be a lot less involved, a lot less expensive, and most notably he would be able to keep all of his teeth.

Jim’s dental neglect clearly resulted in a catastrophic problem for him. This should be a clear reminder, that anyone who ignores their dental care needs, may sooner or later have to face significant dental problems as well – problems that could otherwise be avoided.

One other old saying comes to bare:
Be True To Your Teeth, or They’ll Be False To You