No one likes going to the dentist, but how far would you go to avoid the visit to that reclined chair?
For many Aussies, the answer is pretty damn far. Dentists are warning of a frightening new trend towards DIY dentistry among Aussies unable to, or unwilling to, visit their dentist which has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown of dental clinics, and more and more Aussies losing work.
Victorian small business owner Stephanie, 31, says she turned to DIY dental after the pandemic made booking a check-up and appointment virtually impossible, and reduced income made her start looking for places to cut down spending.
“I couldn’t get an appointment with the dentist because of COVID-19,” she explains to Yahoo Lifestyle. “[So] I bought a kit to clean my teeth from Amazon, just the actual dental tools. It was about $17.”
The lash technician explains that she ended up misplacing the kit, and desperate to rid herself of plaque build-up she made a rash, and ultimately regrettable decision.
“I was very desperate so I grabbed a disposable brow razor,” she says.
“I used the actual razor in between my teeth where you can get build-up of plaque, I was trying to clean inside there. I didn’t know where the tools were and I was just desperate.”
She says the experiment left her with sliced up gums and a chipped lower tooth. When she eventually found the at-home kit, she tried to use that, only to be left once again with bleeding and sensitive gums.
“I definitely don’t recommend it,” she warns.
Stephanie’s story may seem like a grisly, and unbelievable, scene from a horror film, but it’s a frighteningly common occurrence according to new research which has found half of Australian’s have tried their own dentistry at home.
50% Australians have tried at-home dentistry
The new number comes from a survey of 1000 Australians conducted by :DSmile Care, a free online consultation service for Australians who can’t get to the dentist that launched on Friday, July 24.
The service will offer on-demand dental support and information from qualified dentists free of charge, with options to live chat, video call or simply chat over the phone.
The service was founded by dentist, Dr Joe Badr on the back of his experience of watching customers wreck havoc on their mouths because of an inability to access oral healthcare, made worse by the pandemic’s shut down of services including non-emergency dentistry.
The survey found that a terrifying one in six Aussie males under 30 had attempted to pull their own teeth, and a lack of early oral health care can lead to a whole host of issues down the track, and in the immediate aftermath.
Last year the Australian Dental Association told the ABC the increase in online products like stephanie’s cleaning kit, popular teeth whiteners and charcoal scrubs are creating dental issues for many who are buying them, though it seems the trend has far from slowed down.
Dr Badr tells Yahoo Lifestyle over his career he has regularly seen patients attempt to fix their own dental issues, and since the lockdown, it’s only getting worse.
“It’s crazy,” he says. “I had a patient ring me up saying there was something between his teeth, a piece of plastic and he said ‘I tried to wedge it out, and now my gums are really sore’.”
Upon further probing Dr Badr realised the ‘plastic’ was a dislodged piece of filling, and the man had attempted to dislodge it using a piece of barbed wire found in his toolbox.
“He said I just went to the toolbox in the shed, and grabbed a [piece of] barbed wire and started digging in between the teeth to try and wedge [it out],” Dr Badr relays.
He says in this case the pandemic had seen dentists closed for everything other than emergency treatment, but it happens in normal times as well.
He reports everything from at-home whitening, to people filing down their own teeth using nail files, and now online sellers making medical equipment like Stephanie’s dental kit available to people who have no idea how to use it.
He warns that the at-home quick fixes often go wrong, leading to far graver, and more expensive, issues down the track.
“People do anything to avoid going to the dentist,” he says.
Cost of dental keeping Aussies away from the dentist
So why are Aussie taking razors, barbed wire and nail files to their teeth?
Most dentists agree it is a mixture of fear, a lack of access, but above all, money.
71% of respondents to Dr Badr’s survey said they don’t go to the dentist because of cost.
Dental care is not covered under most medicare for adults, with certain people on low-income support able to access free care that comes with waiting lists that can stretch over a year for basic consultations.
How much does dental care cost?
Despite gum disease treatment costing taxpayers an estimated $10 billion every year, any consultation, clean or X-ray is out of pocket for Aussies without private health care.
Prices vary drastically with a standard consult costing anywhere between $50 or $60 according to Dr Badr, who advises patients to do their research as many clinics have dropped their prices significantly in recent years.
X Rays are sometimes free but can cost between $25 and $250, while a clean can set you back between $75 and $200.
With those initial prices challenging many Aussies budgets, skipping a dentist appointment, or trying to fix what seem like minor issues at home doesn’t seem so bizarre.
Dr Badr says he hopes :DSmile Care will help break down the various barriers, by providing free consultation for Aussies, online from the security and safety of their homes, circumventing the money, convenience, and fear factor holding Aussies back.
“Every Australian deserves to have great oral health regardless of where they live, income or time,” he says.