….or Do giraffes get tooth decay?…Part 2
There was something troubling me when I asked myself this interesting question. We seem, as a community, as a species, as humanity, to have come to accept certain disease processes as acceptable, OK, and just a normal part of life. In fact, we seem to be very blasé about these problems, shrugging them off as something that can be “fixed”.
Have we come to call our health problems, (and indeed societal problems) normal because they affect a lot of people?
The low incidence of dental disease in wild animals, show us that what we call normal, is not necessarily normal.
Have we come to confuse the term “common”, with the term “normal”?
Here is an example: I see a number of pregnant women as patients, who assure me that their bleeding gums are normal. The assurance comes from pregnancy guide books…the ones that tell you how to eat and sleep, etc during pregnancy. It is hard to bring these women to the understanding that this is not the case, after all, the fact was written about with much authority. But it is simply not true; bleeding gums are common in pregnancy…but bleeding gums are always a sign that something is out of balance and needs attention. Not normal.
Pregnancy tends to magnify the intensity of health problems we already have. This means is that if something is healthy, it will stay so, if something is not healthy, it will tend to deteriorate, or symptoms will increase. In simple terms, pregnancy does not cause gingivitis, but it will increase the intensity of it. Many woman have some degree of gum swelling and bleeding prior to pregnancy. Their gums will bleed more during the course of pregnancy, because the bacteria that cause the swelling and bleeding absolutely love the surges of hormones that are a natural part of pregnancy.
It is common for women to experience this problem….but understand that to call it normal…to normalise it, is a an error.
When we call something “normal”, it is easy to dismiss and ignore. I know of women who had aggressive, destructive gum disease, but under the illusion that the bleeding was “normal”, did not seek appropriate professional care. In the process, damage was done to their gums.
Another example: Tooth decay has become so common that we have come to accept it as normal. Parents don’t get disturbed about the fact their children have dental cavities, but they do get disturbed about the cost of treatment. So many children have decay, that the problem has become normalised. (Just read this article if you need evidence that what I am saying is true http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2013/may/31/childrens-dental-health-statistics).
Common and normal are not the same, and never should we allow them to become confused.
Something can become common (for example high levels of alcohol related violence) but that does not make it normal, natural, or acceptable. And surely if tooth disease is a normal, or natural process of life, it will affect all species equally.
Clearly, this is not the case.
Everyday, I have conversations with the people I see in my work that go something like this:
“You have two areas of decay…one here (pointing at the X-ray), the other one here….both need to be filled.
“Do you see the redness around your gums here (indicating an area of inflamed gum tissue), and do you see how easily it bleeds when I touch it lightly? [we go on to discuss the nature and extent of the problem, and the treatment required].
The problem is that when we regard these issues as normal, our relationship to them is off key. In my experience, we get upset by the diagnosis of medical and dental problems, but mainly because they are:
- inconvenient to treat, and take too much time in a busy schedule
- provoke fear about discomfort / dentists / dental procedures /medical procedures
….…and not because these problems are an indication that something we have been choosing to do or not do is hurting our bodies.
Wild animals (such as giraffes…I chose them because they are so ridiculously cute) are a wonderful point of reflection for us. They have no oral hygiene aids, no water fluoridation policies, no public health campaigns, and no books on pregnancy, yet they also do not have the disease problems that we humans have, at an increasing rate.
Does the question “do giraffes get tooth decay?” now make sense?
And does the question “if giraffes don’t get tooth decay or gum disease, why do we?” take this a little deeper to heart?
That supermarket and pharmacy aisle of oral hygiene aids is desperately needed. We need the brushes, pastes, creams, gels, flosses and brushes. Without them, we would collapse into a morass of disease. Already busy dentists would be stretched beyond capacity to cope.
The problem is that these amazing products are not keeping up with the way we are eating, living and treating ourselves on a daily basis. The problems are so common, that they have merged and morphed into something we call normal, so much so that we don’t even regard them as a great indication that we are not living in balance with our bodies…
…like wild animals do.
Actually, the problems are now so common, that we share them with our pets and zoo animals.
We need to be very careful about the language we use. I am not talking here about correct spelling, perfect syntax and impressive grammar.
I mean truth in language.
There is a power in the words we use, so when we think and say “normal” that means something specific and that affects our understanding and our concommitant behaviour.
More and more people are experiencing diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, depression and anxiety. And what about obesity? Are we now perceiving these conditions as normal? So much so that it is normal for a person to take 3 or 4 different medications? To make airline seats larger to accommodate larger people? I see people everyday, who can barely make it up our surgery staircase. They take a cocktail of medications, and yet they tell me they are healthy. Everything is normal. Apparently, it is now normal, and healthy to have high blood pressure, diabetes and gum disease….well everyone else has them too!
Let’s take it further…what about aggression on our roads, racist “jokes” and attitudes, carelessly expressed anger, disconnected and disinterested people? Are these ways of being morphing into something we call normal, and simply have to cope with everyday? Why do we accept dull eyed, aimless teenagers, hooked into their electronic devices as normal? Especially at a time of life when physical vitality is running high? Is it now normal for a working mother to completely stressed out, and angry all the time, breaking her teeth from the held jaw tension?
The blurring of “common” with “normal” has allowed us to be increasingly irresponsible in our treatment of ourselves and naturally extend that to others.
Is it not time to put a stop to this blurred way of thinking, and regain the clarity and precision of understanding that will make us stop and call into the question the very abnormal things we call “normal”?