Keep dentistry out of the barbershop

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

I am a strong advocate of continuing education and empowering us to be true mouth physicians. We play an integral role in providing healthcare for our patients. But until we believe it ourselves, we will not make the strides that are necessary to advance dentistry.

Need I say more, as Massachusetts (where I practice) dropped dental coverage for those on state assistance, yet the state finds money to build a bridge in a state park for $14 million. Apparently the state government does not think oral healthcare is important enough to include in the budget.

Recently Dr. Jason Hirsch eloquently expressed his views in response to one of my columns. He spoke of our profession needing to break the tooth carpenter mentality. He is a passionate pedodontist who wants to be able to offer a cure for caries instead of drilling away the diseased tooth structure.

Pedodontists have adopted the medical model and want to prevent disease. Most pedodontists are advanced and forward-thinking. For example, pedodontists were using septocaine long before general dentists knew what it was. They also do not get caught in the useless debate of whether septocaine causes parathesia. The whole idea of septocaine is you do not need to give a block! Pedodontists also have been using composites successfully for decades as they do not want to place amalgams in children's teeth.

As a profession we have a long way to go. We are often so caught up in arguing and defending our Civil War views of dentistry that we are not forward thinkers, nor do we have excitement for advances in our profession. Anyone who dares to be different and practice modern dentistry is shot down and ostracized. Mainstream dentistry is like an angry mob when challenged to change.

Initially, most every advance in medicine is met with resistance, but our medical colleagues seem to adapt to new treatment modalities much quicker than we do. If you scoff at this observation, ask yourself: Do you own a laser, digital x-ray system, or CAD/CAM system? Do you practice tooth-conserving dentistry by doing e.max onlays? Do you treat or refer patients for obstructive sleep apnea?

As Dr. Hirsch points out, a century ago dentistry was handled by the barber. If we do not open our eyes, we could find this profession back there once again.

Helaine Smith, D.M.D., owns and operates two dental offices -- a cosmetic dental spa and a family dental practice -- in the Boston area and is a passionate advocate for educating consumers about dentistry. A fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, Dr. Smith writes and lectures about dentistry frequently and is actively involved in several volunteer organizations, including Operation Smile, Cape CARES, and Give Back a Smile.

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

Copyright © 2010

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