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'Your whole life is lived through your teeth': biographical disruption and experiences of tooth loss and replacement

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Nicolette Rousseau, Emeritus Professor Jimmy Steele CBE, Professor Catherine Exley


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The experience and meaning of tooth loss and replacement has varied historically and culturally but has received relatively little attention from social scientists. Our study set out to understand these experiences in the context of the arrival of newer, dental implant treatments. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out with 39 men and women who had experienced tooth loss and replacement. A thematic analysis was sensitised by previous sociological work on chronic illness, particularly Bury's notion of biographical disruption. We found that while for some individuals the loss of a tooth was relatively insignificant, for others it was devastating and disruptive. In seeking to understand this difference, the concept of biographical disruption was a helpful analytical tool. Our analysis identified two forms of disruption. The first related to the meanings of tooth loss (the neglected mouth) and denture wearing (a marker of old age). The second, embodied, disruption concerned the relationship between the self and mouth in those wearing dentures (the invaded, unreliable mouth) and could occur even where tooth loss and denture wearing had been biographically anticipated.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rousseau N, Steele J, May C, Exley C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Sociology of Health and Illness

Year: 2013

Volume: 36

Issue: 3

Pages: 462-476

Print publication date: 28/10/2013

ISSN (print): 0141-9889

ISSN (electronic): 1467-9566

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/1467-9566.12080


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Funder referenceFunder name
G0500968Medical Research Council