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?