Nothing makes me feel quite as old as sitting in the dentist’s chair. Our teeth, after all, age us. They are not disguised with makeup or hair dye. They simply are there. Revealing.
It always makes me think of a stray blue heeler dog I once enticed to follow me home when I was about eight years old. Mum looked in Charlie’s mouth, (for this is what I had named him on our journey home) and declared him to be too old. I narrowed my eyes and really looked at Charlie and tried to see it, but he seemed like a good handsome young dog to me (ah, love is blind). By the morning, Charlie had returned to his stray life.... after eating a few of our chickens, his teeth not being too old for that! Needless to say, I wasn’t a very popular person at our house for a few days.
Teeth trouble can make you very vulnerable. Recently I have been visiting the dentist a bit, and I don’t mean visiting for afternoon tea. While I’m a good patient, comfortable and calm with the procedures, it is the vulnerability of my teeth which makes me uneasy - the importance of teeth and the ridiculous cost of looking after them. Sometimes I dream I am eating at a dinner party and my teeth are breaking and falling out and I’m trying to hide them...but perhaps I’m revealing too much about myself....
Surely there should be public dental health system? We can’t replace our teeth, they affect the way we appear, our confidence, our relationships, our work, our diet and our digestion. And most importantly, our dental health affects our overall health and therefore should surely be included under a medicare umbrella. Can there be a more defined social divide between rich and poor than through the teeth we show when we talk and smile and sing? Is it fair that one socio economic group is disabled in accessing a basic health need?
I have lost two teeth through poverty. When I was a struggling studying single mother living on the smell of an oily rag, I couldn’t afford dental care until in crisis. Fortunately, while in the process of dealing with one infected tooth, I received a grant for screen writing. I spent the entire grant on that tooth – only to lose the tooth later down the track because I didn’t have enough money for the final crown(damn you Australian Film Commission!). And the film was never made either!
I was on a waiting list for the dental hospital, but the list was long, really l...o....n...g, and three years later, my number still hadn’t come up. By then the temporary crown had broken, the tooth had been reinfected and needed to be pulled out. For me, I have a rather large and froggy smile which at times stretches (think Wallace and Gromit) to show that gap. I was, quietly, a little bit devastated.
The Greens party recognise that Australia needs a dental health system accessible to every one. This is from Greens Senator Richard Di Natale's website "Australia's oral health is poor. A third of people say they can’t afford to go to the dentist, or delay going to the dentist because of the cost. This results in an unnecessary burden on the health system. 7-10% of GP visits are due untreated dental problems. An estimated 500,000 people are on waiting lists for public dental care, with average wait times of 27 months and in some cases higher than 5 years. More than 60,000 hospital visits a year are caused by dental problems."
Here is a link to the Senator's opinion piece on the abc's The Drum, entitled "Sink your teeth into dental reform". The comments are also worth a read.