Ask the Dentist: We can't tiptoe around tooth truth

Failing to call health issues what they are in case offence is caused ultimately doesn't help any patient, says Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care

It seems that some health truths have become all but unsayable for fear of causing offence.

I SUFFER from severe foot in mouth disease - it's an inherited condition, passed down through paternal lineage.

On occasion, the affliction amuses both my nurses and patients and results in an omnipresent rumbling uneasiness that the dental regulators will uncover this trait and I will be sent to dentistry's naughty step.

So, I am becoming increasingly distressed at the number of words that one can and cannot say in society.

This week my follicly challenged chum sent me an article concerning a tribunal decision that linked being called bald to sexual harassment.

The 'f' word is out when talking about obesity. Apparently, according to TV pundits, it's not the done thing to mention the word exercise when talking about weight loss as it's too emotive. And it's a minefield when talking about race or sex when related to diseases which are affected by race and a person's sex.

These are just the explicit terms mentioned; then there's a whole host of things that are going unsaid. When people are discussing the pressures on the NHS and how to fix things, there's always talk about more money, more staff, and more facilities, but complete tumbleweed on what patients can do to improve their own health to reduce input into the system.

It's just that all this non-straight talking and tiptoeing around the issues when speaking with patients can make things a whole lot worse and be detrimental to health long-term.

Practitioners avoid saying things so that they won't offend and end up with a complaint.

Moving from an unhealthy state to a healthier state by changing lifestyle habits is extremely difficult (but doable).

To motivate patients, complete freedom of speech often spurs on the most change in people.

Sometimes to facilitate change in someone's habits they may feel temporarily down, which stimulates them to change to a healthier lifestyle.

It's rarely a smooth ride where someone feels great all the time, and this is both normal and OK.

So, I live in eternal hope that freedom of speech and straight-talking will come back into vogue so we can focus on supporting our patients to become healthier without agonising over unintentionally offending.

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