The Painful Reality of DIY Dentistry
The Painful Reality of DIY Dentistry
When I was a kid, the family true-horror story was of my great-great-grandfather pulling out all his teeth with a pair of pliers. Certainly he was of a particular generation of DIYers when that was just life in general. Dentists didn’t even use ether then, so I kind of get it; the scariest part of that story is it seems the world has come full circle.
A permanent fixture in the rabbit hole of YouTube, are videos of gore performed by Google-degree’d wannabe dentists whether by circumstance or design.
“The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism,” as Sir William Osler once said.
With a mix of proclamations from the dangers of amateur dentistry to the brilliance of potential financial savings, social media blurs the lines between anecdotal evidence and professional healthcare.
“Don’t try this at home” only works when you haven’t uploaded that dowel-and-piece-of-string extraction of a loose wisdom tooth. Or a nail file rasping a jagged chipped tooth. A bloodied incisor gripped between a pair of pliers is hard to absorb when it’s not 1838.
They have followers to vouch for them. Some videos have been viewed 440,000 times.
In contrast, dealing with a dentist or orthodontist requires a greater commitment than an hour in front of a screen: taking time off from work, finding an appropriate practitioner, and making an appointment – which will probably occur further into the future than preferred.
Oftentimes, there’s no advance notice of cost, and no easy way to compare fees. For many people, the entire dentist scenario evokes unpleasant memories – from feeling vulnerable in the chair, to being lectured about hygiene, and feeling financially stressed.
Given these factors, it’s not surprising that DIY dentistry is making its mark.
In the weirdness of the human inability to process what technology allows us to do and the reality of what is, people perceive they have a relationship with Insta-influencers, YouTube cynosures, TikTok hotshots and the Reddit commentariat. This feeling of trust is often created on unreasonable grounds of inferences, assessments or perceptions that mean confirmation bias will always mute any cacophony of criticism. If you believe that rock-paper-scissors is a game of random chance, you have no idea how irrational, unconscious and predictable human beings are. There is strategic vulnerability that follows negative experience.
In terms of DIY dentistry, it’s not unlikely that the viewer has had a negative experience at the dentist. So there is already subtle influence, which allows similar ways of reasoning converge. Like a flock of birds flying in formation, there’s a collective dynamic of people trying to reason through each other’s thoughts. It’s a process governed by an increasing behavioural predictability, rather than any intrinsic value. This recursive fuel of anticipating the collective is how eBay gets crazy bids on stupid things. And it’s how stupid things somehow don’t seem crazy.
It’s what makes closing a genetic front teeth gap with tiny elastic hair ties seem such a genius idea. After all, everyone already knows orthodontists use rubber bands, so whatever leap of logic, it’s not so radical … In rock-paper-scissors language, the thing that gives confidence is other people online saying that it works. The thinking becomes, OK, if it worked for them, I’m not the first person trying it out.
Why not save thousands of dollars on braces? And make a successful video at the same time! Bring on that algorithm money!
Dismiss the idea that any orthodontics is complex procedure that deals with living bone and gingiva tissue. Have no idea that a true story – not an urban legend – involved an attempted similar gap closing using a friend’s actual orthodontic elastics. The end result was a space that was widened, rather than closed: both front teeth were lost when the band worked its way under the gum tissue in an unintentional DIY dentistry extraction.
Undoubtedly there’s no Emotional Dentistry follow-up on that tragic consequence; disasters are far outweighed by ‘successful’ YouTube dental hacks; possibly for the same reason those who are sadly money-scammed often keep it to themselves.
The increasing stigma attached to both poverty and inequality block access to healthcare for the poorest people in the UK, and grim tales of emergency self-remedies and over use of over-the-counter dental first aid kits are on the rise.
The kits, easily bought for a few pounds, are intended as a temporary remedy for lost fillings, caps and crowns. In despair, people are now using them to home treat their whole family’s teeth. It’s a crisis that’s spilled into trading unfinished courses of sedatives, anti-depressants, and antibiotics. In a country that prides itself on free healthcare, the lack of NHS dentistry has been happening for well over a decade, and the pandemic completely exacerbated the problem.
A 31-year-old marketing professional was in agony for a year with wisdom tooth pain. They couldn’t get an NHS dentist, and the cost for treatment at a private practice would have been up to £1000 – completely unaffordable.
Instead, they got a kettle of boiling water, poured it over some nail scissors, and cut the gum surrounding the tooth away.
“I was at a desperate point, where I was in so much pain – and knew why I was in so much pain – that I had to do something,” they recalled. “There was a ton of blood, and I really wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve managed to alleviate the pain, but I haven’t solved the problem.”
If necessity is the mother of invention, I’d like to know who the father is of that horrific idea.
The British Dental Health Foundation, found that one in five Britons said they would remove a tooth themselves, or ask a friend to do it if they could not afford dental treatment.
Clearly, good friends take you out – best friends take your teeth out.
The value of dentists as a respected profession has been greatly diminished, and there seems a proliferation of the completely misguided concept that their investment is in how much they make, rather than how much they make a person’s life better – aesthetically and psychologically. Internet information has people believing they can research a few sites, read a couple of paragraphs and know everything there is to know about a treatment that involves immense knowledge and experience to discern.
Taking a dental procedure and clumsily tweaking it as an end-user process is one for which social media’s structure and culture works perfectly. Given the training and expertise required like anything of quality, dentistry is not cheap. With the rising cost of living is a growing segment of the population that would rather look to the internet to find an at-home treatment, and unfortunately, they’ll find it.
The best last words always belong to dead people, and since he’s already been mentioned, Sir William Osler can have it: The physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.
My great-great-grandad might have something to say about that.
If he had the teeth.
Note: All content and media on the Bacchus Marsh Dental House website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.
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