Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 23 (2):261-268 (2020)

Commercialisation and consumerism have had lasting and profound effects upon the nature of oral health and how dental services are provided. The stigma of a spoiled dental appearance, along with the attraction of the smile as a symbol of status and prestige, places the mouth and teeth as an object and product to be bought and sold. How the dental profession interacts with this acquired status of the mouth has direct implications for the professional status of dentistry and the relationship between the profession and society. This essay examines the mouth’s developing position as a symbol of status and prestige and how the dental profession’s interaction and response to this may have important effects on the nature of dentistry’s social contract with society. As rates of dental disease reduce in higher socioeconomic groups, dentistry is experiencing a reorientation from being positioned within a therapeutic context, to be increasingly viewed as body work. This is not in of itself problematic; as a discipline dentistry places a very high value upon the provision of enhanced or improved aesthetics. This position changes when the symbolic exchange value of an aesthetic smile becomes the main motivation for treatment, encouraging a shift towards a commercialised model of practice that attenuates professional altruism. The dental profession should not welcome the association of the mouth as a status and prestige symbol lightly; this article examines how this paradigm shift might impact upon the social contract and dentistry’s professional status.
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DOI 10.1007/s11019-019-09924-4
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Bodies for Sale-Whole or in Parts.Nancy Scheper-Hughes - 2002 - In Nancy Scheper-Hughes & Loïc J. D. Wacquant (eds.), Commodifying Bodies. Sage Publications. pp. 1--8.

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