I’ve recently caught myself acting irrationally about denture cleaning tablets. Let me explain. I’ve decided to have my teeth straightened. This involves wearing a brace (but as it’s a high-tech one, only for a few weeks). Said brace requires a daily dunking in what the BBC would no doubt call ‘a proprietary denture cleaning solution’ (commonly known as Steradent in the UK if I’m allowed to mention the brand name).
Keen to follow my dentist’s instructions, I proceeded to the supermarket but once I found the stuff was amazed how keenly I felt the need to explain to anybody who observed me furtively putting the tube of nice fizzy tablets into my basket why I was buying them. Crooked teeth, or even dentures, are hardly an embarrassing condition. I’ve lived with mine for almost 50 years and only now admitted that I’d prefer them straighter. I’m prepared to lisp and put up with slight discomfort for several weeks from the brace – no problem! But buying denture cleaner somehow affected my self-image. It just wasn’t something that I did – this was a product for old ladies, not for me. My mother, in her late 70s and with all her own teeth, assured me that she sometimes bought the tablets because they were very good at removing stains from inside teapots, but still I felt strangely disquieted. I know it is pathetic – I tried to imagine what it must feel like to collect (or buy) colostomy bags or incontinence pads. But I was still struck by the fact that I felt anything at all about such an inconsequential purchase.
So why am I sharing my embarrassment on a BMJ blog? Am I hoping for somebody to inform me of an impressive sounding medical term (preferably derived from ancient Greek) for an irrational fear of denture cleaning tablets? Doctors probably don’t need a reminder that people act irrationally, but let’s face it, we usually apply the term to other people, and rarely to ourselves. I’m blogging about this trivial event because it reminded me how people sometimes cope better with the big things than the little (I’m prepared to wear a brace but embarrassed about buying cleaning tablets for it). It also reminded me what a strange rag-bag our self image must be if it can be upset by something like buying denture related items. I hope that next time somebody does something I consider irrational, I’ll remember the Steradent and be a bit more compassionate.
Liz Wager is a freelance medical writer, editor, and trainer. She is the current chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).