Brushing Your Teeth Like a Professional
I remember going to the dentist with my father when I was about five or six years old. This is a happy memory; I felt proud of myself for being such a “big girl”. Given this auspicious beginning, I don’t know why it took more than a decade for me to return to the dentist. The second visit only occurred after my jaw became swollen because my wisdom tooth was impacted and the gum infected. At the time it seemed reasonable to me to avoid the dentist for as long as possible, even if it meant taking over the counter pain meds for a swollen, throbbing jaw.
I avoided the dentist for many more years with the bright idea that I would wait until all of my teeth fell out and then just get dentures made. However, after I became a step-parent I thought I should behave like an adult and start going to the dentist—particularly since my step-children did so without any fuss. I steeled myself and set off. I explained my fear and asked that the dentist and hygienist be gentle. I lived to talk about my triumphant return to the dentist and had to admit that the cleaning was quite tolerable, uneventful even, except for a few times when I had to sit up and take a few deep breaths. I graduated to a few dental procedures and was beginning to feel comfortable going to the dentist. That is, until I moved to Tampa and had to find a new one.
After a few years of backsliding, I found a nearby dentist and was glad that I went. These digs were plush: I had my own flat screen television there. The ambiance and experience was more akin to that of a spa than the scary ideas I was carrying around. The next year—dare I say it—I almost looked forward to my cleaning. When I called to schedule my visit, I was deeply disappointed to learn that this office no longer took my insurance. This was just the excuse I needed to stop going to the dentist. After about a year, the cycle started again. I found another dentist, had a good experience, but by the next year that dentist no longer took my insurance. After another break, I found my current dentist in Tampa where I am going for some maintenance.
This post is not about the vagaries of dental insurance, although it is certainly relevant in our current public debate about health care (although note that dental care is not included in most health insurance plans). No, this post addresses what I’ve learned about knowledge, power, and professions by going to the dentist more regularly. Note that dentistry is hardly my area of expertise so apply my “findings” at your own risk:
1. Manufacturers should halt the production of manual toothbrushes. Why are those even available for purchase given their poor design to clean our teeth? Do you ever floss after brushing your teeth with a manual tooth brush? Does that exercise make you wonder how much more dirty your teeth would be if you hadn’t bothered to brush?
2. Why don’t dentists make us sign a contract saying we will use an electric toothbrush rather than suggest we buy one? (This is not a suggestion I’m likely to take given the ridiculous prices for those on sale in dental offices.) There are now many varieties of battery operated toothbrushes that are quite reasonable priced and their results are impressive.
3. Back to flossing. Why don’t dentists make us sign contracts saying that we will floss daily? I confess my ignorance about flossing. I thought it was something to do occasionally…if I felt like it. I never had that attitude about brushing my teeth daily.
4. Why don’t we get an early, good education about the proper way to brush? I’ve pieced together information from asking lots of questions and think I’ve finally learned how to brush my teeth properly.
5. Why doesn’t the dentist recommend that people with less than stellar vision brush and floss with our glasses on and/or with the aid of a magnifying mirror? I’m at an age where like many of my friends, my eyesight is deteriorating. A few weeks ago I was stunned to see my teeth in the magnifying mirror of my hotel room. I didn’t know that I couldn’t see what I was doing until I could really see what I was supposed to be doing.
6. Why don’t we have tools that more closely resemble those used by hygienists to clean our teeth? I asked this of my hygienist and her response was something like, “You’re not trained to do this.”
Although I these questions are tongue in cheek, I do wonder why most of us don’t have the correct tools and more information about how we can do a better job cleaning our teeth? Granted, we’re not dental experts with the relevant training but we are responsible for this task on a daily basis. Is one answer that teeth cleaning is a profession? Do you think these issues are an example of a profession that controls the information and goods “non-experts” have available? Is this an example of power through knowledge, in which dental professionals control the information we have?