Responsibility and Dental Health

by Dr Rachel Hall B.Ch.D(Uni Leeds), LDSRCS(Eng), MACNEM, Dental Surgeon, Brisbane, Australia

Dentistry has always aimed to focus on prevention of oral disease rather than solely treatment alone. We all know that too much sugar causes tooth decay and that to maintain the health of our teeth and gums it is important to brush and floss regularly. Our role as dental professionals shifted from drillers and fillers to health care educators where we told our patients how to clean their teeth and advised them to cut down on sugar. However, this culture shift needs to be taken further as despite our efforts, rates of dental decay and oral health issues are again on the increase.

Dental professionals are not the gatekeepers of our patients’ health: the patients are. A six monthly or yearly check-up and clean with a filling or two when needed is disease management via treatment, not preventive care. Would you be happy if every time you visited your GP you required a minor surgical procedure? I think not.

As dentists our aim should be to be involved as partners in people’s health care, advising patients on their responsibility for their own oral health. After all, they are the ones who every day of their life choose what to eat and drink, how they live, how often they brush and floss and how effectively they do it. We cannot physically be there to guide them every second of the day and the thinking that a couple of hours a year of dental visits will address their dental health issues is both arrogant and disempowering. We need to change how we respond to the dental needs of our patients and empower them to take responsibility for their own wellbeing.

This requires a shift in our level of communication and our approach to what wellbeing and health really mean. Simple oral health messages such as, ‘don’t eat sweets’ and, ‘brush your teeth after meals’, are now ludicrously questionable and ineffectual. Yet, these are the apparent clichés on which the dentist-patient relationship has been built and maintained. This must change. There will always be an element of a dentist-patient relationship because our training teaches us to offer advice and diagnosis to help and treat our patients. But if we really are to make a shift in dental care then we need to see our role more as managing patients’ expectations and fostering the philosophy that they are as much in charge of their own oral health destiny as we are, in fact more so. Thus, the way the patient cares for themselves, what they choose to eat and drink, how they live and lifestyle factors will play an increasingly important part of our work. This change in approach does however require us to develop a deeper understanding of health, nutrition and lifestyle impacts on oral health and a more holistic approach to dental care.

Unfortunately, this is where modern dentistry and even holistic dentistry fall short as there is more to illness, disease and healing than we currently know and unfortunately, we do not have the solutions. It appears that as human beings there is a great deal more to us than initially thought and despite our best efforts and medical advancements, dental health seems to be on the decline. We as dental professionals should be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers. Perhaps then, through this level of humbleness, we would be open to admit that there is a missing link and seek new approaches to health and healing and adopt an approach that allowed for a marriage of science, healing and complementary care that addresses the physical, biochemical, emotional and energetic aspects of health.

The concept that we have a responsibility for our own choices, health and self-care and that we are more than simply flesh and bone are part of the presentations of the Esoteric Wisdom which apply an understanding of the body and the human situation to our daily life. This awareness, as presented at length by Serge Benhayon, makes for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing that could easily be incorporated into a new model of dental care, where the way we live day to day and the state of our being are just as important as brushing and flossing our teeth.

What would happen if patients understood their responsibility and role in their own self-care and health and were able to see that dentistry was merely there to support them? What would occur if the prop of blaming the professional is removed? And what if the excuse of having regular check-ups as a justification for a lack of regular and effective self-care no longer held sway? Then, to what extent would patients, empowered with the knowledge that their oral health and wellbeing is now in their own hands, decide they are willing to take responsibility and implement lifestyle changes?

192 thoughts on “Responsibility and Dental Health

  1. “the way we live day to day and the state of our being are just as important as brushing and flossing our teeth.” This places the responsibility for self-care into the hands of who it is that chooses whatever is put into their mouth.

  2. These days I actually prefer to know that I am responsible for my health. I may not act responsibly at all times but it is far better to be empowered to reflect and make changes or to live responsibly and not have as much go wrong then blame someone or something else for my ills.

  3. I take very good care of my teeth, but this year alone I have had to go to dentist 3 times to fix my fillings on top of every 4 month check-up, because I grind my teeth – and this, my dentist can do nothing about other than giving me a mouthpiece to wear during sleep. It is my responsibility to look at the way I am with myself, with others, in what quality I am living, it is the whole thing.

  4. “Would you be happy if every time you visited your GP you required a minor surgical procedure? I think not.” This question stopped me in my tracks, I wonder why we are much more relaxed with our teeth procedures than what happens to the rest of our body, I wonder if fillings have begun to be accepted as normal and not a big deal rather than a minor surgical procedure and we just need a quantum shift back to really truly caring for ourselves.

  5. Thanks Rachel, it’s great to read something from the practitioners perspective and be reminded of the limitations of what dentists can do for patients, as it’s up to us to take on board all the supportive advice and apply it in our own lives.

  6. It is empowering to be the gatekeeper of my own health but am I willing to accept that this comes with a responsibility to look at every aspect of how I am living and how that impacts on my health and wellbeing? The answer is some of the time and I am rigorous in my daily dental care routine but not always in the wider aspects of taking care of myself such as getting enough rest and eating to support my body rather than overburden it when I am seeking a way to dull uncomfortable feelings.
    It is inspiring to have professionals such as you Rachel who are calling us to be more responsible whilst always offering loving support with this process. Thank for you for your dedication to the dental profession and the many ways that you offer not just your patients but the wider public alternative ways to more deeply love and care for themselves.

  7. If we struggle to look after our teeth which is taught from the very young generally within the home and within schools then we’re certainly going to be up against changing our ways and looking after ourselves in other areas of our lives. Taking responsibility for our teeth and general wellbeing is not only empowering but it prevents us from blaming others including dentistry and the medical profession… we shouldn’t have to feel responsible for another’s choices.

    1. I’d say it also helps educate others as well to also be responsible if it’s so normal for ourselves. I remember at school everyone was given a free toothbrush and single file marched into the bathroom to brush our teeth. I was roughly 6 or 7 but I don’t remember feeling particularly inspired to care for myself, more interested in getting a free toothbrush!

      1. Yes there is no doubt that it is through our livingness that we inspire leading by example first and not by words or actions telling another what and how to do things.

  8. It is indeed our choice as patients to be more proactive in our dental care than to expect dentists to fix our teeth when needed, the more deeply we understand how to support our own dental care the less likely we are to need a filling, this means taking self-responsibility for the way we clean and floss our teeth everyday.

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