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Ask the Dentist: It sounds strange but I just love cleaning abscesses – here's why

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says sometimes she has to curb her totally understandable enthusiasm for tackling oral infection

Who in dentistry doesn't enjoy ridding a patient's mouth of infection?
Lucy Stock

APPARENTLY, I’m not allowed to say things like 'One of my favourite things to do in dentistry is to clean out abscesses from the bone,' and I’m definitely not supposed to show this type of thing in a photo to the public.

My team chide me if I make these suggestions. Actually they encourage me to use my 'inside voice' on many matters, come to think about it...

“But Dr Pimple Popper gets away with it!” I exclaim. “Shhh, Lucy,” comes the reply from the surgical nurse with a smile that belies her words – I know that she enjoys the procedure too.

It really is satisfying to rid someone’s mouth of infection. To see it really clean and get that feel-good factor from knowing that you have improved a patient’s general health in a matter of minutes is a privilege.

Many times, patients are unaware of the infection that is lurking around their teeth because there isn’t any pain. They often don’t see the need to clean away the infection as, to them, they can’t feel it doing anything sinister.

The body works best infection free as the alternative is that inflammation from dental infections leak into the blood stream causing disease.

The idea that leaving infection around teeth is acceptable has become normalised over the years. This is partly due to the legacy of dentists being physically separated from the rest of the medical profession at university in the 1800s. So began a compartmentalisation of the mouth from the rest of the body. Dentists were not seen as doctors of the mouth but as a separate entity and so the mouth subconsciously became detached from the body in the public’s mind.

It would be unusual for someone to go around with an infected finger or leg and not try and get it treated. The body doesn’t differentiate where infection starts. If a finger, leg or tooth is infected, the inflammatory products still wreak havoc. If an infection from anything is left, then at times sepsis can set in requiring urgent hospital attention.

This is why cleaning out tooth abscesses and stopping infection progressing is rewarding for both patient and dentist.

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