The dental anomaly: how and why dental caries and periodontitis are phenomenologically atypical

Dylan Rakhra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

76 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Despite their shared origins, medicine and dentistry are not always two sides of the same coin. There is a long history in medical philosophy of defining disease and various medical models have come into existence. Hitherto, little philosophical and phenomenological work has been done considering dental caries and periodontitis as examples of disease and illness.

Methods: A philosophical methodology is employed to explore how we might define dental caries and periodontitis using classical medical models of disease-the naturalistic and normativist. We identify shared threads and highlight how the features of these highly prevalent dental diseases prevent them fitting in either definition. The article describes phenomenology and the current thought around the phenomenology of illness, exploring how and why these dental illnesses might integrate into a phenomenological model.

Results: We discover that there are some features particular to dental caries and periodontitis: Ubiquity, preventability and hyper-monitorablility. Understanding the differences that these dental diseases have compared to many other classically studied diseases leads us to ethical questions concerning how we might manage those who have symptoms and seek treatment. As dental caries and periodontitis are common, preventable and hyper-monitorable, it is suggested that these features affect the phenomenology of these illnesses. For example, if we experience dental illness when we have consciously made decisions that have led to it, do we experience them differently to those rarer illnesses that we cannot expect? Other diseases share these features are discussed.

Conclusions: This paper highlights the central differences between the classical philosophical notion of disease in medicine and the dental examples of caries and periodontitis. It suggests that a philosophical method of conceptualising medical illness-phenomenology-should not be applied to these dental illnesses without thought. A phenomenological analysis of any dental illness is yet to be done and this paper highlights why a separate strand of phenomenology should be explored, instead of employing those that are extant. The article concludes with suggestions for further research into the nascent field of the phenomenology of dental illness and aims to act as a springboard to expose the dental sphere to this philosophical method of analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15 (2019)
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2019


  • Caries
  • Dentistry
  • Disease
  • Illness
  • Naturalist
  • Normativist
  • Periodontitis
  • Phenomenology
  • Philosophy
  • Prevention

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