Dentists: a follow up

My post on dentists generated a fair bit of interest, and some heated arguments with dentist friends on Facebook.

The defence was predictable: dental disease is common and routine check-ups help to catch and fix problems early, preventing worse problems later. But that completely misses the point of my argument. I accept that routine check-ups have a benefit. The issue is that routine check-ups for other body parts and conditions would have a benefit too, so why do we prioritise dentists as the only specialism which gets to do them? An annual colonoscopy wouldn’t be much more uncomfortable than the average appointment with a dental hygienist, and it would help to prevent some of the 15,000+ deaths from bowel cancer in the UK each year. Even an annual nurse-administered physical inspection for testicular or breast cancer would be quicker, easier, cheaper and more effective at saving lives than having a fully qualified dentist on £100,000+pa count your teeth once a year.

On a related note, Corsodyl’s current advertising campaign shows a woman bleeding from her eye, with the strap line, “you wouldn’t ignore this” – implying that we shouldn’t ignore bleeding from our mouth when we clean our teeth (and we should use Corsodyl mouthwash to solve whatever problem is causing the bleeding). But Corsodyl is wrong. We probably would ignore bleeding from our eyes, if we were all socially conditioned to scrub our eyes with an abrasive tool twice a day.

I don’t believe in dentists

Of course, I’m not saying I don’t believe dentists exist. I’ve experienced enough sensory data to be pretty sure they do.

Nor am I saying that I don’t believe we need dentists. Obviously, dental problems happen and we need specialist tooth doctors to deal with them.

What I don’t believe in is the paradigm which holds dentistry to be of such preeminent importance. The paradigm that says we need quite so many dentists. That says dentists should operate independently of the rest of the medical system. That says they should provide their own first line inspection function. That says we need routine dental check-ups whether or not we have any reason to believe we have a dental problem.

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