In his The New Poverty, Stephen Armstrong introduces the disturbing case of DIY dentistry. These practices are clearly growing yet the methodological incapacity of existing approaches means there’s little to no systemic evidence about this growth. From loc 863-882:
Accurate figures on the extent of DIY dentistry are hard to find. One of the biggest sellers of dental first aid kits, DenTek, shifts over 250,000 kits a year, but there’s no research on how people use the kit. In researching this book I met people in Hartlepool, Merthyr Tydfil and Bristol who had worked on their own mouths with these kits. In 2012, research from the oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation found that one in five Britons would remove a tooth themselves or ask a friend to do so if they couldn’t afford dental treatment. The Foundation hasn’t followed this up, explains its dental advisor Karen Coates, because ‘all of the stuff that we have is anecdotal’. And yet any and all figures on DIY dentistry and the black health economy will necessarily be anecdotal, according to John Wildman, professor of health economics at Newcastle University. The way we gather health data relies on surveys and GP-based patient interaction. ‘People at the lower end of the distribution curve –on big housing estates in the north-east, for instance –are effectively completely unreported,’ he explained. ‘They don’t take part in surveys and they don’t go in to GP surgeries. Which is why you have a situation where people in the north-east have gaps in their teeth and are resorting to DIY dentistry while at the other end of the scale there are people for whom toothpaste isn’t even about fighting infection –it’s about making their teeth whiter. It’s crazy.’
This immediately left me wondering whether digital social research, specifically conducted as social listening, might prove effective. Are there conversations taking place about these practices in publicly available forums? Are there reviews about the different kits which are available? Are there support resources which have been created to guide people through these processes? I’d be curious to know if anyone has examples of digital social research into the black health economy.