Dental Hygiene and Weight Shaming
Is there any place in the world where one feels more judged than in the dentist’s chair? You’re sitting there in a relatively compromising position as the hygienist probes the depths of your mouth exposing all of your deepest lies. “Sure I floss regularly” (regularly but not daily). “I wear my mouth guard all the time” (all the times I feel like it which is not so many times). You can’t lie to the dentist or her minions. The truth is written on your gumline like a signed confession. And speaking of confession time, I have a cavity. It’s not a big one, if there is such a thing, but a failure in oral care nonetheless. I am so ashamed.
While I was sitting there being probed by those miniature medieval torture devices they use, I had the thought. I suppose that the way I was feeling at that moment was likely the way many of my patients feel when I interact with them. Granted, I do not probe their depths. I specifically chose a specialty that didn’t involve too much in the way of probing internal cavities – no disrespect to by gastroenterologist and gynecologist colleagues out there. The probing I do is more of the psychological kind. I ask questions about diet and exercise and try to judge how honest the responses returned are. Ultimately, like the plaque on my teeth, the numbers on the scale never lie. Regardless, I imagine it can be difficult to have the spotlight placed on one’s less than stellar health habits. I suppose the same is true for the less than perfect readers of this blog who are working to lose weight. Just like I had pangs of guilt for my lack of commitment to flossing, they may feel uncomfortable about their various junk food binges or lack of committment to exercise.
While my hygienist was very gentle and pleasant in her scolding of my poor habits, I nevertheless felt pretty low on the inside. For that reason I thought it would be good for me to use this forum to help explain where I’m coming from if ever the words of this blog come across as scolding.
Almost every day in my practice I see people who are suffering tremendously as a result of the many years of extra weight. They’re knees hurt from the arthritis. They have a hard time getting around because they can’t breathe as a result of their heart failure. They are exhausted because their sleep apnea is so severe. I do my best to alleviate their suffering as much as possible, but it never completely resolves the problem and I feel bad for their them in their suffering.
I often wish I could go back in time and get to these suffering souls before the complications set in. If I could I would try to educate them and motivate them to make the lifestyle changes necessary to prevent the suffering that awaits them.
In a way, that is what I am trying to do with you. If you are overweight or obese, I can see into your future and I worry about you. I worry about the pains and the shortness of breath. I worry about the debilitation and loss of freedom. I worry about the lonely days in the hospital longing for the days when the normal acts of daily living weren’t so difficult, wishing you had done more to lose weight before it was too late.
The purpose of this blog and my book is to have the discussion with you that I wish I could have with the younger versions of my patients. I can’t help their younger selves but maybe I can help you. I want to educate you about the importance of diet and exercise to help you lose weight and be healthier. I don’t want to see you in my hospital or any hospital in the coming years. I don’t want myself or some other doctor to have to look at you with sadness wishing they could have convinced you a few years earlier to make the changes necessary to keep you from getting to this point.
So if it comes across at times like I’m the dentist scolding you for your unsavory habits, I am truly sorry. I do not mean to be condescending or patronizing. I certainly have no desire to be judgmental. I’m just trying to help. I do understand how you feel. And in case my dentist is reading this, I have flossed every night since my last visit.