They like pulling teeth! What young South Africans think of dentists

02 January 2018 - 14:11 By Dave Chambers
File photo.
File photo.

What are dentists for? To pull out sore teeth. That was the overwhelming view of a group of 18 to 35-year-olds in Cape Town questioned by academics.

That was the overwhelming view of a group of 18 to 35-year-olds in Cape Town questioned by academics from Harvard in the US and the University of Cape Town.

They asked the Gugulethu residents about their experience with dentists and found that many of them had never visited one or had any oral health problems addressed.

“Participants’ responses suggested that dental care played little‚ if any‚ role and has thus far had no relevance to their lives‚” the academics wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Almost every participant believed that the primary indication for seeking dental care was tooth pain and the only treatment option extraction.”

A team led by Frederick Lambert‚ from Harvard School of Dental Medicine‚ questioned six men and 19 women who were starting anti-retroviral therapy after being diagnosed as HIV-positive.

Because they were free of symptoms‚ they said the group’s experiences with oral health care “may be generalisable to the community overall”.

Lambert said the only free dental services available to the 100‚000 residents of Gugulethu were at Nyanga clinic‚ but many of the people questioned did not know about them and had no idea what symptoms a dentist treated.

A 21-year-old woman told her interviewer: “First thing I do when I have a tooth problem‚ I use boiled water with salt in it and gargle and spit‚ or put Colgate on the painful tooth. And if the pain persists I would go to a doctor to maybe get it extracted.”

Said Lambert: “Lack of access to high-quality dental care services results in unnecessary pain and use of ineffective treatments. Preventive dental care from public sources appears to be largely unavailable to this high-risk population.”

He said there was a need for education programmes to dispel misconceptions and fears about dentists‚ and a campaign to dismantle the barrier between medical and dental services.