Classism, perception, and dental health.

28 September 2021

It is somewhat stereotypical that folks who didn't grow up with a lot of money or are considered lower class than whomever you happen to be tend to have bad teeth. Braces cost a lot; I don't know how much they are these days but when I was a kid it was a couple of grand easily. Dental insurance is still not very common these days ("Do you offer dental?" is still a question people ask when looking for a new job), and dental insurance that actually covers anything is even more difficult to find. Plus, USian healthcare being what it is, various providers can take or leave different insurance companies as they please. Regular checkups cost when you don't have dental insurance (I vaguely recall one of the few I had as a kid costing a couple of hundred dollars, and my mom saved up for it for several months to cover it).

For whatever it's worth, my family didn't have a whole lot of money when I was growing up. We weren't poor but pretty much everything had to be budgeted in advance, and they weren't shy about saying "no" if the budget couldn't cover at the agreed upon time for whatever reason. We definitely didn't have the kind of health insurance I somewhat guiltily enjoy these days (working for a megacorp does have some perks) and I didn't have anything like dental coverage. Long-time readers have no doubt noticed that the tag dental work on my blog in its various incarnations has many more posts associated with it than just about any other. The lack of decent dental care while growing up is a big part of this (though a hereditary vitamin D deficiency certainly hasn't helped any).

But that's not what I want to talk about. I'm just establishing some bona fides there. What I wanted to do was shed a little light onto a stereotype that I think is kind of bullshit.

It's been said that the first thing people who were once poor do is get their teeth fixed. Teeth that need pulled get pulled, regular cleanings become a thing, polishing and bleaching to alleviate stains and other discolorations, cavities get filled, the whole nine yards. Those same people making those observations are also known to remark that folks catching up on many years of dental work are doing so to look more upper class to other people, and to hide their origins. I happen to disagree.

Having bad teeth in general, and not-so-great professional dental dental care in particular tends to be painful. Cavities that need cleaned out and filled not only make one's teeth very sensitive to temperature but outright hurt. Cracked teeth can let go at any time (ask me how I know) and as often as not turn into iceberg cavities (you can't see much on the outside but are a huge mess on the inside, kind of like most of an iceberg being under the surface, out of sight). And abscesses? Aside from their being incredibly, amazingly painful (as well as permanently destructive), it's not widely known that they were a leading cause of death just 200 years ago because, as they spread they can infiltrate the bloodstream. Even if they don't go catastrophic, abscesses tend to give your health overall a good swift kick betwixt wind and water.

I think the issue is that for a lot of us, once we have the opportunity to get that pain taken care of, we get it done as soon as we can. Pain and chronic infections do not make for good quality of life. Being able to sleep all the way through the night without pain is amazing. You can think much more clearly, too. I'm not qualified to comment on what it does for the length of one's life, but I think it's safe to say that not having the additional metabolic load might give you a few years you might not otherwise have had.