Where Bad Teeth Come from: A Study in How Cultures Exert Causal Force

25 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2009

See all articles by Stanton H. Wolfe

Stanton H. Wolfe

University of CT Health Center - Dept. Community Medicine and Health Care

W. Penn Handwerker

University of Connecticut

Date Written: December 15, 2009

Abstract

This study tests hypotheses about the origins of bad teeth and good teeth. In the process, we show how cultures exert ‘causal force’ and produce what, following the lead of the dental professionals and dental patients who served as our research participants, we call ‘bad teeth. We conducted a mixed method ethnography that integrated narratives from one set of diverse research participants (n=39) with structured interviews from a different set of diverse participants (n=288). We assessed cultural agreements with principal components analysis and used correspondence analysis to clarify significant forms of intracultural variation. The population studied shares a single cultural understanding organized around the assumption that oral health constitutes a cosmetic not a disease category. Quality of life standards, however, varied with work cultures and oral health prevention behaviors reflected cultural norms that bear on appearance. This variation produces an apparent paradox, that the use of oral health services increases with access but may decrease with objective need. Improved oral health may require social marketing that stresses both the socially enhancing objective of healthy teeth and gums and that bad teeth add significantly to the risk of heart disease.

Keywords: Cultures, oral health culture, work cultures, quality of life

Suggested Citation

Wolfe, Stanton H. and Handwerker, W. Penn, Where Bad Teeth Come from: A Study in How Cultures Exert Causal Force (December 15, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1523845 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1523845

Stanton H. Wolfe

University of CT Health Center - Dept. Community Medicine and Health Care ( email )

263 Farmington Avenue
MC-6325
Farmington, CT 06030
United States
860-679-5408 (Phone)

W. Penn Handwerker (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut ( email )

Storrs, CT 06269
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.anth.uconn.edu/faculty/handwerker/

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