Saturday, January 4, 2014

Culture and Health

In my years of working in public health, I've come to see how culture plays an important part in the health behaviors we choose.  So today's post tells one of stories I've collected over the years about health choices:

I used to share an office suite with a retired dentist.  Jim is a great guy and would tell me stories from his decades of experience in oral health care in Kentucky.  One day he told me about a time a mother brought in her 16 year old daughter to his office.  The mother had false teeth, and Jim figured that this may have driven her to be concerned about her own daughter's oral health.  Jim checked the daughter's teeth and was happy to tell the mother than the daughter's teeth were in good condition.  He asked if there was any special problems beyond a routine cleaning and checkup that may have brought the pair to the dentist.  The mother quickly spoke up and said:  "Oh yes.  She's 16, so it's time."  

Jim:  "Oh?  Time?"

Mother:  "Yes.  For you to pull her teeth so she can get her false teeth."

Jim (shocked):  "What?"

Mother:  "I had my teeth out when I was 16 and got my false teeth.  So it's time."

Jim explained that the daughter had perfectly healthy teeth and did not need to have them extracted.  The mother strongly disagreed and demanded Jim pull her daughter's teeth and replace them with false teeth.  Jim refused, and the mother left in a huff.  He heard she eventually found a dentist who did pull her daughter's teeth and replace them with false teeth.  

I found this story rather bizarre.  I have no idea how long ago this scene took place or how this rural family became convinced that good oral health meant getting false teeth at the age of 16.  It certainly isn't the norm today among rural or urban Kentucky families.

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