Peter had arrived mid-morning, when the temperature was hitting the low 30s, and the crowd was still 80 people strong. He sat in the shade of a nearby tree waiting patiently for his turn. Most patients arrive at an African rural dental clinic, not exactly overjoyed to be there, as many of them have been in pain for a considerable time.
Peter, however was different as he smiled and greeted me. He explained how he had been unable to eat and sleep properly for almost 7 months, due to the constant pain he was getting from his teeth. To cut a long clinical history, and delivery very short; over the space of two consecutive days we found ourselves removing approximately 25 remaining teeth. They were so periodontally involved it was impossible for Peter to keep a single tooth.
What impacted me was not only his smile of gratitude that he was no longer in pain, despite the fact that he was now completely edentulous, but that he wanted to show and demonstrate his gratitude. He disappeared for about 30 minutes and returned with the biggest bunch of bananas that I had ever seen. This gift of appreciation by Peter was huge, it not only occupied the whole of the back seat of the car, but was also at a very real financial cost to him. Peter had never intended to lose all his teeth; he had never intended to be in pain for so long. But due to lack of education and basic resources (something that is the right for every human being here in the UK), he had been left in the situation where the inevitable loss of all his teeth was necessary for him to be pain-free and to function normally again.
Then there is Peter number two! Peter a confident teenager with the world and a future ahead of him, but who felt that it wasn't his responsibility to care for and manage his own oral health. Peter felt that somehow it was not 'cool' for him to brush his teeth and that spontaneous bleeding gums was merely a 'flesh wound' quoting Monty Python to me!
This Peter had all the resources and education at his fingertips, yet he did not want to take full advantage of it, or to take responsibility for his own oral health and well-being.
If I'm honest this Peter made me a little cross. I know that the Peter I met out in the remote African dental clinic would have given pretty much everything that he had to have access to the dental professionals and positive oral health education, that second Peter was taking for granted.
There is good news, the second Peter did finally take advantage of the care the dental professionals were giving him, and he ultimately admitted that after discovering the furry end of the toothbrush stopped his gums bleeding; eating was much more fun!!!
During the recent national smile month and over the past weeks, I reflected on how fortunate we are here in this country. Even with all the challenges that our profession faces at this moment in time, and the public's perception of our profession we are still fortunate to be able to offer an excellent service to those in need. We are good news to the Peters of this word even if sometimes we wonder if our message is getting through! Perhaps we could also spare a thought for those Peters, and others, who live in in remote areas of developing nations. They would love to have, and access the dental professional teams we serve in, and all the healthcare that is so often take for granted here in the developed countries.
Who knows……maybe one day you might join me on a plane and I'll introduce you to Peter!
During National Smile month, the Smiley helped to communicate our messages for good oral health:
- Brush your teeth last thing at night and on at least one other occasion with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.
- Visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.
Poor oral health can be both physically painful and psychologically damaging. It can affect self-confidence, image and even how we are perceived by other people. From the many interesting studies into laughter millions of people may also be missing out on the positive benefits of smiling and having fun. The Smiley is a great opportunity to take a moment to think about your oral health, and more importantly how you can improve it.
Dr Ian Wilson [B.D.S. Edin]
Co Founder Bridge2Aid
Posted by Gemma