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Decaying state of teeth should have us down in the mouth

By Grace Dent

Published 09/04/2015

Decay: tooth care is on decline
Decay: tooth care is on decline

Do-it-yourself dentistry - including home extractions - is on the rise, if reports are to be believed. I have no trouble believing the tale of impoverished Gulf War veteran Ian Boynton about his NHS dentist dilemma because I've seen the photos of his 13 rotten teeth, sitting in a dainty yellow pile, that he removed himself with pliers.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, has issued a strict warning to anyone thinking of copying Mr Boynton.

"DIY dentistry is both dangerous and unnecessary," he says.

But although Mr Boynton's self-inflicted act may seem extreme, foolish even, I can empathise. The combination of extreme toothache, very limited finances and terrifying dental bill estimates, plus years of bickering with the reception staff at NHS clinics could break the spirit of even the most lucid soul.

Toothcare has always felt unaffordable to the working classes. It is currently £18.50 for a dental check-up, before any flaw is found.

We have, I sense, lost our impetus to be outraged by the state of Britain's dental services.

My last NHS dentist operated out of what could be described as an outhouse made of MDF.

For appointments at 8am he'd regularly swagger in without apology at 8.40am, clad in eye-wateringy snug Spandex cycling shorts, then begin his round of emergency appointments re-gluing crowns into the glum faces of patients that he'd fitted poorly before.

Obviously, affairs of the gob are very different when you opt out and go private, which I have done several times. Not specifically better, but certainly different.

In private dentist world, one meets all the ambitious, big dollar-making, punctual dentists who favour a nice, prim white coat and wouldn't dream of presenting their schlong to you at eye level through cycling shorts.

Periodontal cleaning, deep hygiene checks, Invisalign recommendations and whitenings will be thrust upon you - at astronomical prices - as if you'd literally have to be some sort of savage to decline.

I popped into one private clinic surgery for a quick consultation about making a front tooth "less wonky" and left two hours later with a full payment plan to remove some teeth, break my jaw and reset it at the cost of around £14,000. I ran away.

The future of British teeth, to me at least, feels shaky. There already is a marked difference between the adult teeth of the rich and the poor in Britain.

One can simply flip open my mouth to see the evidence of my less than affluent childhood: the silver fillings, the gaps and errant molars.

In the 1970s, a perfect Hollywood smile was never something the working classes aspired to obsessively. But how odd to think we may be slipping down a route in 2015 where the poorest working classes might simply no longer have teeth at all?

Carmel McConnell, the founder of Magic Breakfast, estimates that 500,000 children attend school every day too hungry to learn. At a point where growth - mentally and physically - is vital, children are starved of calories.

Meanwhile, childhood obesity has quadrupled over the last 30 years, leading to many rotten teeth having to be extracted.

Are we moving towards an era where only the affluent, with their pretty gobs, will be truly acceptable in public life?

Yet again, social mobility seems to be in reverse gear. It's a fact that will forever leave me down in the mouth.

Belfast Telegraph

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