image credit: BBC
At one stage of the hour long documentary looking at different aspects of the nation’s teeth, Dr Chris van Tulleken sits down very seriously and addresses the camera. He says he’s heard from the British Dental Association, read all the scientific papers and has come to a conclusion. “Forget the whitening, floss and electric toothbrush,” he says. “All you need to do is, using a manual toothbrush, brush your teeth twice for two minutes a day using a fluoride toothpaste.” It may be nothing we didn’t already know, but it’s nice to hear it being said. At 20 past 9. On national television. On a Thursday night.
This sets the pattern for the first part of the BBC’s two part series entitled “The Truth about your teeth.” It may tell us plenty that we may already know but it gives oral health a platform to reach a much wider audience than usual. It shows how outdated fears of the dentist have been replaced by a professional, scientific, but ultimately warm and welcoming, environment where complex problems can be solved by highly trained, efficient but also quite human and relatable, dental practitioners.
Ably presented by Dr Chris van Tulleken and Jasmine Harman, the show focused primarily on the work of dentist Serpil Djemal in the King’s College Hospital site at Denmark Hill as well as looking at numerous different facets that make up the discussion on the nation’s oral health. It may have focused on particularly bad cases where patients had horrendous teeth issues but this was certainly no Botched Up Bodies on Channel 5. This was a show highlighting plenty of common sense and presenting the dental industry in a positive light; a light not often seen in mainstream media.
Attempting to undo the patient’s (and the viewer’s) fear of visiting the dentist, the documentary focused on how even the most extreme cases can be treated with some effectiveness. One woman who’d taken to gluing her own teeth back into her mouth got extensive restorative work done, while a young man who had severe decay due to his 24-cans-of-energy-drink-a-day habit had his teeth restored in the space of two hours. Focussing on how dentists can help rebuild our confidence and self-esteem was a real positive of the show.
It presented dentistry in a quite a positive light and not the “scary dentist” of old. Highlighting their professionalism as well as their humanity, one particular highlight was the laughter of dentist Serpil Djemal as one very clumsy, young patient blundered his way out the door of the practice, surely to do more damage to his teeth in some innocuous incident at some later date.
From the public’s perspective it also did quite a good job at convincing people that dentistry is rapidly evolving but in a clear, scientifically driven direction. Social media sprang to life during the course of the show last night. Twitter was full of comments such as “I’ll never skip brushing my teeth again” and “I will be keeping my teeth for life, defiantly brushing them for 2 minutes from now on”.
It also highlighted just how ineffective over-the-counter whitening products can be which, especially in the light of the numerous self-practitioners offering teeth whitening services, is particularly relevant. What they look at next week is of great interest already…
So, all in all, a good start! I eagerly look forward to next week’s episode. It may have told us many things that we already know but it’s certainly so refreshing to see oral health be put so high on the agenda, even for two nights of the year, on national television. It was an engaging take on common themes. Even if you don’t completely agree with the content, it would be hard to argue that it showed dentistry in a much more positive light than we’re used to, which is a very refreshing concept. Taking the perspective of the public looking from the outside in, it is perhaps too much to hope that the show will address the numerous regulatory issues, or seriously address the future of NHS dentistry but, again, this is prime time national television and they’re talking about oral health. Not only that, but they’re giving quite good advice about oral health. With the lack of emphasis given to dentistry lately, it is most certainly a start.
I can also say this with absolute certainty. Everyone in this writer’s household brushed for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste immediately after the credits rolled on last night’s show. To watch the first part of The Truth About Your Teeth, please click here.