D.I.Y. Dentistry: Don’t Even Think About It

As Americans, we are a nation of do-it-yourselfers. And the tighter the economy gets, the more pronounced this tendency becomes. It makes perfect sense, after all. Why pay someone else to change your oil when you can just roll up your sleeves and do it yourself?

Unfortunately, this tendency can go too far. In recent years, we’ve seen an alarming number of cases of people performing ‘self-dentistry.’ And we’re not talking about overflossing here: the pressing need for care has forced patients to attempt to fill cavities, even perform multiple tooth extractions–with often tragic results.

Scott Lothamer DDS moragadental.com

A RAM clinic underway in Southern Virginia.

In a recent interview with the Nation, Caleb (last name withheld) described his decision to forego professional care as a practical one; he doesn’t feel he should have to spend thousands of dollars to have his teeth worked on. But Caleb has paid the price: using a pair of hog-ring pliers, he once crushed a tooth he was attempting to remove, leaving a jagged, painful stump jutting from his jaw. This he resolved with the help of a hammer and chisel.

About a third of Americans struggle to pay for basic dental care. Unfortunately, our system treats the teeth as if they exist separately from the rest of the body (though an infection that begins in the mouth can, and often does, spread quickly through the bloodstream). You can’t go to the emergency room to get your teeth fixed, so dental problems among the poor are typically neglected until they become intolerable. Desperation sets in, and out come the pliers.

If this sounds like a bad idea, it is–very bad. Each year, countless people suffer irreparable damage to their teeth because they take their dental care into their own hands. We can’t be emphatic enough about this: dental work is not the realm of amateurs. Outside of regular brushing and flossing, dental issues should be handled by a trained and licensed professional. The consequences can be sobering: In a case that received a great deal of publicity, a 12-year-old Maryland boy named Deamonte Driver actually died from an infected tooth – a tooth that would have cost $80 to pull.

Likewise, teeth whitening is a procedure that should generally be left to your dentist. Recently, there have been numerous reports of a whitening product being sold online that contains 4 percent hydrogen peroxide, far above the 0.1 percent limit allowed in over-the-counter products. Called Beautiful Cold Light Teeth Whitening Kit, the product, though illegal, is still available on some e-commerce platforms. Concentrations of hydrogen peroxide this high are likely to cause corrosion of the teeth and other ill effects, and should be carefully avoided.

Of course, there are those citizens who can’t get the care they need because of the cost. This is a persistent and difficult problem, but fortunately there are some solutions on the horizon.

Just one example: the nonprofit organization Remote Area Medical (RAM), headed by Stan Brock, runs weekend clinics in medically underserved areas from Texas and California to Florida and New York. Supported by doctors and dentists that volunteer their time, RAM provides basic medical, dental, and vision care—even veterinary services. They do this free of charge, and the response has been overwhelming. They treated over 30,000 people in 2016, and the numbers are only growing. To find out more, visit http://ramusa.org/