What Happened to My Teeth On The Way to Life?

August 2007

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

The other night I was watching an old classic family movie that portrayed life in a simpler time out in the country. An elderly farmer depicting years of wisdom inspected a horse he intended to buy and his first point of interest was a close evaluation of the horse’s teeth.

As an elderly farmer might say, that started me to thinkin’. If it’s so obvious to an old farmer how important the quality of an animal’s teeth is, how can people stop and ask, “how did my teeth get so bad?” A person may have a car in immaculate condition, be dressed in the latest fashion with perfect hair and nails, express great pride in how well they maintain their house, yet they have broken teeth with missing fillings and even abscesses — appearing in my office only because they are in pain. Where is the balance in the lives of these people? What did the farmer know that they are missing? Further, what are the barriers these people face that impede them from taking better care of their teeth – cost, fear, embarrassment, time, or just apathy?

It would be much simpler to assume people avoid dental care only related to cost, but after twenty years of practicing in Woodstock, most people typically can afford dentistry at some level of care, given creative treatment plans and good financial arrangements with the office. The same person that states they can’t afford dental care, often states they just paid for Lasik surgery, is going on a cruise or may have just bought a new boat. The need to have balance in your life and emphasize a healthy lifestyle is important. Find a dentist that motivates you and keeps you focused on the value of the benefits of your oral health.

Fear amazingly presents one of the largest barriers to dental care today. In a time when computer anesthesia allows the delivery of dental anesthesia painlessly, technology in dental restorations are truly a work of art, and comfort in dental offices is the standard not the exception, people are still conjuring up images of dentistry from decades ago. Only time and positive dental experiences will reduce dental phobia and raise people’s awareness of comfortable quality dental care.

Embarrassment is reiterated from new patients on a daily basis and keeps patients out of dental offices. A warm greeting, open ear, and sincere caring approach to helping patients are your best remedy for this need. Patients, don’t settle for any less in your doctor.

How many times have I heard “my work just won’t give me time off to go to the dentist”? Other favorites are “I’m just too busy with the kids to get time for myself to go to the dentist”. Whatever the excuse, these lines represent just that and are not a genuine barrier to dental care. A person can always find time for two dental visits a year to maintain their dental health. This amounts to two hours out of 8766 hours per year for your dental cleaning and examination. Truly, time management is the issue for these people and the value of dental care must be emphasized.

Apathy is a very tough problem to analyze. It may be a catch all for several or all of the above mentioned barriers to dental care. Apathy can simply be related to not understanding the impacts of dental health to the human body. Many people are walking around with abscessed teeth and have pus circulating through their entire system, including their heart, liver and kidneys. Dangerous strains of bacteria stem from dental abscesses and periodontal disease, present in 75% of the US population, and can lead to serious complications of child birth, heart conditions, and onset of systemic diseases. Wow. The old expression, ignorance is bliss, is not a good answer to ignoring your dental needs. People don’t always make sense. There are thousands of diabetics that continue to consume soft drinks and foods rich in sugars, and refuse to exercise. There are cancer patients that continue to smoke and drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Heart attack patients with a history of high cholesterol that continue to eat fatty and high-cholesterol foods confuse me greatly. The list goes on and on. The point is some people do not value health and are not disciplined enough to take steps to positively impact their health. What kind of person are you?

Dental exams are stressed twice a year as compared to an annual medical physical or eye exam because of the importance of early detection of decay, periodontal disease and oral cancer. No health care field has taken on as strong a focus on prevention as dentistry.

“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans” to quote the late John Lennon of the Beatles, and clearly typifies the challenges we are faced with in many avenues of our lives, including our own dental health care needs. Create needed balance to handle work, family, church, friends, and your health care, including your dental health care. Reserve time to see your dentist twice a year to receive a quality dental cleaning and examination. As my dad used to always say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.