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It's time to stop avoiding your doctor

When a mysterious bump formed along by gumline, seemingly out of nowhere, I assumed it would go away in a week or so, but the bump continued to grow...
File photo.

After an emergency trip to the dentist, I realized how important early medical intervention really is and why avoiding health concerns are never worth it.  

When a mysterious bump formed along my gumline, seemingly out of nowhere, I assumed it would go away in a week or so. I told myself if it is still there by next Friday, I would call my dentist. But the bump continued to grow and other symptoms began to manifest.  

In three days, it became abundantly clear this was something that would only get worse if not treated appropriately. With a gut feeling that this could be bad, really bad, I made a call to see a dentist as soon as possible.  

I discovered it was bad, really bad, and if I had waited any longer, an uncommon infection in my gums could have spread, likely causing me to lose two teeth.  

With early medical intervention and a round of two very strong antibiotics, I was able to save my two front teeth just in time for Christmas.  

In many ways, early intervention is the next best option to preventative medicine and care. 

Even when we live relatively healthy and active lives, we can still get sick, and although it may seem extremely unfair, unexpected health complications can still pop up.  

Unfortunately, you cannot control the cards you are dealt or the genes that control the formation of physical attributes. All you can do is take ownership of your response to changes in your health and do the best you can with cards you have in your hand. To me, that means consulting an expert when things shift from normal to abnormal. 

And yet, a qualitative study from 2014 conducted in the United States called “Why do People Avoid Medical Care?” found that one third of those who participated in the study avoided seeking medical care even when they suspected it may be necessary. The main reason – participants feared an unfavourable evaluation. 

It may seem absurd that someone would avoid a doctor or dentist simply because they wanted to remain in the dark about a potentially serious health issue, even if they may be able to tell their symptoms are worsening – yet it happens all the time, as the study points out. 

Medical experts have a term for this: “Patient Delay.” However, this can be broken down further according to the study. An “appraisal interval” is the time taken to interpret symptoms and “help-seeking interval,” encompasses the time an individual takes to seek care after determining a need. 

The patient delay in my case was three-and-a-half days before I had shifted to the help-seeking interval. Although originally, I had planned to wait a week before seeking help, but that quickly changed when my symptoms continued to worsen.  

For some, patient delay may persist long-term even when individuals suspect they may be facing major health problems and are experiencing symptoms.  

In the study’s literature review, it found that a previous research study reported “17 per cent of patients diagnosed with rectal tumors reported that they waited a year or more to seek medical consultation after noticing symptoms, with some waiting up to five years.”  

The main concern with avoiding medical care is that it may result in late detection of disease, reduced survival, and potentially unnecessary suffering. 

But of course, there is more than just fear of the unknown that keeps individuals out of medical offices. The study also found several other barriers lead people to avoid seeking medical treatment.  

“This qualitative study identified factors such as low trust in doctors, low perceived severity of symptoms, emotional factors (e.g., denial, avoiding worry, embarrassment), practical barriers, and prior negative experiences as contributing to avoidance,” the study highlighted. 

Of the many things I will take away from last year, being aware of my body and its overall health is one of them. I’m not growing any younger it seems, so staying attuned with the messages my body is sending is the best way to maintain my health and thankfully my teeth too. 

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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