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The scary dentist habit that should ring alarm bells with every patient

In a previous blog, I wrote about a patient whose reason for coming to me – a sore tooth – led to the discovery he was suffering from advanced stage gum disease.

Sadly, advanced stage gum disease of itself is not that unusual.  Many people don’t even realise they have it and may only notice it first when their gums bleed during brushing or a loved one comments their breath is a little on the nose.

While this is by no means an ideal situation for the patient, it highlighted an issue that I have noticed is appearing with increased frequency among dentists.

What is unusual is that gum disease may have been overlooked by the treating dentist; the very situation that arose for this patient.

What’s wrong with this picture? Can you see the Gum Disease?

Gum disease
Check out this patient’s bone loss comparing the difference to the green line.

Two years prior he’d visited the dentist for an unrelated dental issue, and although he’d raised his concerns about sore gums, he claims the dentist offered no other possible explanation.  Evidently his treatment protocol was equally deficient, because his solution was a medically prescribed mouthwash.

Now it’s not my place to comment on treatment protocols offered by my peers, but I will say this:

Because of the seriousness of gum disease, the patient in question would have benefited from a more rigorous approach to his oral health, starting with some cold hard information and education about failing to take prevention seriously.

As dentists, there are times when a prescription may be completely appropriate, however when treating a patient, it is upon us to regard the patient from a holistic and long term perspective.  Knowing that gum disease is often silent and sneaky, it would not be a stretch to expect that dentist to have considered other treatment protocols for that patient, given their gender, age, and stage in life.

My position on this sensitive topic?  

This situation is merely a reflection of a creeping uneasiness I feel is becoming an unhealthy norm in dentistry.  It is not unlike a similar trend that we’ve witnessed among the medical fraternity, namely the reliance upon script writing that fails to consider a patient’s needs from a holistic, long term perspective.

And the outcomes are the same.  We treat symptoms, not causes.  We view patients at a moment in time, rather than from a long term perspective.  And patients are left with a bad taste and advanced gum disease.

When I am working with my patients, I am not just reacting to their immediate issue, although that will be considered as a factor.  Unlike a growing number of my colleagues, I’m looking at where the patient (and their teeth and oral health) will be in ten years time, not just now.  I ask myself questions like:

  • Is the the tooth structure strong?
  • Will it last the distance?
  • What does this patient need to know for the long term?
  • What’s the deeper reason behind their current issues?
  • Could there by longer term impacts which can be avoided by taking action now?
  • What will help to bring this patient to a prevention mindset?

Prevention versus Reaction – you choose?

It is simply not enough to treat a patient’s oral health as we see it today.  If we do that, we’ll be left to deal with much bigger problems when the wheels fall off (or the teeth fall out!).

For the patient who presented at my practice with the advanced gum disease, the fallout from the prescription only treatment protocol from his previous dentist is serious.  

Unless he AND his dentist are committed to a regimen of high quality preventative care, he will be staring into the mirror at some pretty loose teeth in a relatively short space of time.

I realise some patients are reactive, while others adopt a preventative approach to their oral health.  If you’re sitting on the fence about which approach you’ll take, don’t wait until a serious health issue arises before you finally take that leap into prevention.

What are your thoughts?  Have you been postponing a visit to your dentist because you’re concerned about what will emerge?  

Share your thoughts here or better still, contact us (07) 5573 0188 directly to discuss your concerns.


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