Time to alter the public's perception of dentistry

Editor's note: Helaine Smith's column, The Mouth Physician, appears regularly on the DrBicuspid.com advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

As Americans we are bombarded with approximately 250 advertisements per day coming at us from print, radio, television, and the Internet. They range from luxurious amenities to liquidation overstocked items.

Additionally, a favorite pastime for many people is to window shop and look at expensive jewelry, watches, and clothes. Dreaming about a bigger boat, the latest model car, or a deluxe kitchen is acceptable in U.S. culture. No one passes judgment on wanting something new and improved.

“Failure to educate our patients ... is unfair to them.”

But people within the dental profession, and many laypeople, pass judgment on dentists who present proper treatment plans to our patients, accusing us of overtreating and only looking to make money.

Years ago Reader's Digest sent an undercover patient around to several dentists for an evaluation of his mouth. The article concluded that the best dentist was the one who did not recognize disease present in the patient, applauding him for only treatment planning a small amount of work. This type of article tarnishes our reputation as a profession and questions our ethics.

Many dentists do not inform their patients of disease present in their mouth or the options available to them for restorative materials, such as upgrading old porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns in the anterior region to a more aesthetic material such as lithium disilicate or zirconia. Many dentists feel it is wrong to be proactive and prevent problems before they happen. Why is it OK for an airline to ask if you want a first-class seat, but we feel funny asking a patient if they want an onlay?

Failure to educate our patients about sleep apnea, the consequences of recession, periodontal disease, leaky old amalgams, and uncrowned molar endodontically treated teeth is unfair to them. Armed with the appropriate information, they can decide for themselves if they want treatment.

It is bad enough insurance companies use inflammatory language against us when they deny our submitted charges. We do not need a fellow dentist saying it is overtreatment to fill deciduous teeth or take care of recession or treat occlusal disease or do onlays on molar teeth.

I am a huge advocate of continuing education and learning what is the present standard of care. For many of us, that standard is a lot different than what we were taught in school, and we must avail ourselves to new concepts and why they are important for our patients' health.

We are not tooth plumbers, but if we lower ourselves to that level, the public will surely hop on the bandwagon -- especially in light of the current healthcare debate. It is time we treat each other with respect and become mouth physicians to our patients.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2009 DrBicuspid.com

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