Friday, December 20, 2013

Musings on teeth and general health

Hey guys!

Well, what a weird week it has been.

This morning (It is really Saturday. The date above the heading is a lie. Perhaps I should just switch my day to Saturday... Any objections?) I went to the dentist! Yep, first visit in several years in fact. Now my teeth are slightly whiter and everyone I come in contact with will find me more likeable.

Teeth are strange things, aren't they? I mean, I brush my teeth twice a day, floss occasionally. I figure I may have a cavity or two just because it's been so long. So, I get in the chair, lean back, and look up into the bright light. The dentist poises her mirror and begins cataloging my teeth, listing them off one by one to an expectant hygenist.

Now, I know very little about teeth. I have an adequate vocabulary; I understand the words she is saying, I just don't know what they mean in the context of teeth. But I do know they all sound very bad. I sit there listening to her make the rounds around my mouth. She cleans my teeth and hands me over to the hygenist who polishes them. It is not until I talk to the receptionist on my way out that anyone actually explains anything to me. Turns out I have more than I couple cavities.

Count them: one, two, three, four.

What struck me most about this whole encounter was the way the information was presented to me. None of the individuals were rude or incompetent. They all did their jobs quickly and efficiently. They just didn't talk to me. They examined and cleaned my teeth. Is it their job to educate me too? Whether it is or not, should it be? The answer is probably both yes and no, to different extents.

I think bedside manner is important. As a patient, it is important to have all the information you need to make informed decisions about your own health. I'm not trying to say that I am upset with the service I received this morning, or that I think doctors should hold their patients's hands through every visit. Mostly, I'm just trying to draw attention to what I see as some flaws in the way we think about health and responsibility. Sometimes we act like health is so simple: eat right, exercise, brush your teeth. If you do those things, you're healthy. If you don't, you're not. I don't think this is true. Those things certainly help (are strong indicators even), but there are lots of factors that are out of your personal control (genetics, for example). Medical professionals go to school for a very long time for a reason. Part of health services should be helping individuals have the information they need to be active agents in managing their own health, in whatever way they are comfortable with.

My dental adventures are a small, silly example. But imagine it wasn't something small or silly. Imagine if it were a serious condition. Now forget the "imagine" part, because I suppose you really don't need to.

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