Recently a patient brought in a magazine article from the USA with which he vehemently disagreed. The gist of it claimed that for the most part, dental disease in adults is a personal choice simply because it can be avoided. He claims to be a regular brusher and flosser, and cannot understand where his periodontal disease originated.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential for overall health. While dental health issues are commonly classified as diseases, some argue that poor dental health should be seen as a personal choice rather than a regular disease. Let’s look at the factors contributing to poor dental health and understand this debate surrounding its classification.
Firstly, what defines bad dental health? Poor dental health encompasses a range of conditions, including cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss. These issues arise due to various factors, including inadequate dental hygiene, poor dietary choices, lack of access to dental care, and genetic predisposition. Maintaining good oral health requires regular brushing and flossing after anything but water passes your lips. Avoid excessive sugar consumption, and visit the dentist for check-ups and cleanings. Failure to adhere to these practices will lead to the development of dental diseases.
The argument at the top of this column claims it is a personal choice. Advocates believe that individuals have full control over their dental hygiene and are solely responsible for the consequences they face. They argue that personal choices, such as poor diet, neglecting oral hygiene practices, and avoiding dental visits, ultimately contribute to the development of dental issues. Viewing poor dental health as a personal choice promotes individual accountability and encourages individuals to take responsibility for their actions, but they must subscribe to that thought.
Several factors influence an individual’s ability to maintain good dental health, which then affects the perception of it being a personal choice. Socioeconomic factors such as limited access to quality dental care, including lack of insurance coverage or financial constraints, can hinder individuals from seeking timely treatment. This lack of access may lead to worsening dental health conditions.
Education once again rears its head. Limited awareness about the importance of oral health, proper dental care practices, and the potential consequences of poor dental health can contribute to making uninformed choices.
There are cultural practices, dietary habits, and traditions which often impact an individual’s oral health. For example, diets rich in sugary snacks and beverages can contribute to dental decay. Some individuals simply may not prioritize oral health as much as others.
Dental anxiety, fear, and phobias can significantly impact an individual’s ability to seek dental care, leading to neglect of oral health. It is a fact that 33% of adults in North America have some element of “Dentalphobia”, or fear of dentists.
While the personal choice argument has its merits, it is crucial to recognize the limitations and challenges associated with using it to label poor dental health solely as a personal choice:
Poor dental health is often a result of a complex interplay of multiple factors, including genetics, socioeconomic factors, and access to care. Merely attributing it to personal choice oversimplifies the issue.
Some individuals may lack sufficient knowledge about dental hygiene, making it difficult for them to make informed choices about their oral health. Ignorance is not always a conscious personal decision but can stem from a lack of access to proper education and information.
Dental health is influenced by broader social determinants, including income, education, environmental factors, and access to healthcare including insurance funded dental care. In our area, 66% of patients have some dental insurance yet some rarely take advantage of it for oral disease prevention. These factors can significantly impact an individual’s ability to make informed choices regarding oral health.
The classification of poor dental health as a personal choice or a regular disease is a complex matter. While personal choices do play a significant role, it is important to consider the various contributing factors, including socioeconomic factors, education, cultural practices, and access to healthcare. Recognizing the multifaceted nature of this condition is important. Currently, 75 per cent of adults in North America suffer from periodontal disease. It is curable, but is insidious in nature because it may progress for years without significant discomfort. Adults have a habit of ignoring dental problems that may not yet cause pain.
Your first step always is regular checkups and professional hygiene visits. If you don’t have your next appointment booked, make today ‘that’ day!
Dr. Michael Dolynchuk is a General Dentist practicing in Caroline and Red Deer.