Dental legacy

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

It is a fact that we pass on more to our children than our genes.

They receive the legacy of our attitudes, our beliefs, and our ways of relating to ourselves and all of life.

Some people take on the legacy their parents hand them, and make it their very own. They replicate the same aims goals and ideals, perhaps taking them further than their family did.

Others rebel against the legacy and set out to forge their own path, as far from mum and dad's as they can possibly make it.

For most people it is a mixture of both - we hope to keep the parts we liked, and avoid the parts we didn't. How well we manage that is a matter for personal contemplation . . .

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the whole package of attitudes and beliefs, just those ones that relate to teeth, dentists and dental care.

This is the Dental Legacy.

I have been around long enough (where did those 30 years go!!!) to no longer be surprised by the intensity of the dental legacy and the way dental attitudes and choices are so powerfully dictated by the environment in which we were raised.

Here are some examples that I have observed in my years in general practice:

  • In some families I have known, teeth are highly valued and cared for.

  • In other families, teeth are an expensive inconvenience and ignored until they cannot be ignored any longer (ie: they hurt too much).

  • A have worked with members of a beautiful family in which grandparents, parents and children scrub away their teeth like there is no tomorrow. I have given them toothbrushing advice, demonstrations and soft brushes. Every single member of the family has matching abraded tooth surfaces, although grandma's are by far the deepest.

  • The families who come in for their 6 monthly visits, as regular as clockwork. Their children follow suit into their own adulthood.

  • The families who come in for crisis management only, and their children go on to do the same. This week I cleaned the teeth of a 28 year old person - it was their very first clean by a dentist because of this particular family legacy.

  • The phobic parent who passes on their fear to their children. This is a difficult one because sometimes those fears are founded on genuinely difficult experiences. There are times however when I have witnessed parents gleefully tell their children how awful the dentist is when their child is already seated anxiously in the dental chair. This is not fair to the child and does not allow them to have an unencumbered experience. Chances are they will pass the same attitude onto their own children.

  • The family who all floss everyday! (They are rare, hence the exclamation mark).

  • The family who do not, cannot, will not clean their teeth - all three generations who come to see me. They all get the same instructions and they all blissfully ignore them.

  • The family who all eat junk food and blame the bottled water or the previous dentist for the fact they all have tooth decay. They keep buying junk food and their kids keep buying junk food.

The list could be endless with all of the ways, attitudes, states of mind and preferences that get passed on from generation to generation.

I have seen the rebels too, the people who had the regular check ups with the family dentist, the braces, the prompts to keep their teeth clean . . . They had the good Dental Legacy, and for whatever reason let it all go and chose neglect and  'crisis only' dental management.

What deeply inspires me are the people who inherit a pretty poor Dental Legacy but they are willing to turn it around. These are the people who:

  • Work to overcome their fear by finding the correct dentist who works with them. They bring their children to the correct dentist for regular visits and do what they can to ensure their children get off to a great start,

  • Make the move from crisis management to preventive maintenance, because it works and gives them confidence in their teeth. They introduce their children to the same,

  • Change their diet because they tired of the consequences of sugar on their teeth and their budget. They do all they can to ensure their kids don't end up eating a staple diet of junk and and up with the same dental diseases,

  • Improve their own oral hygiene standards and encourage their children to develop the standard when they are young.

These people show that the legacies we inherit are not a burden we are encumbered with for life. If anything, they can be the key to our liberation because in observing the people we got them from, we can see our future laid out before us.

We see the incredible benefits of the good legacy and embrace it more strongly. We see the devastation, and the personal and financial cost of not looking after ourselves.

Whatever our starting point, the legacy we are left with can be turned around to make our health an important focus of our life.

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