Dentists should invest in dentistry's future today

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

Lately some dental journals have run articles about outsourcing crowns abroad and the dental laboratory industry in general. Many of them predict that the future of the laboratory industry lies in two distinct business models: the high-end boutique and the centralized digital processing center that is capable of handling high volume.

CAD/CAM technology and 3D imaging is the way of the future for dentistry. It is upsetting that dental schools have cut back on teaching and incorporating this into the curriculum (Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, Summer 2010). I do not understand how dental schools feel it is acceptable not to expose their students to modern dentistry, especially since tuition is around $50,000 per year.

I often use the analogy of anesthesia. If the anesthesia residents were only exposed to using ether during their training and then had to figure out all the great advances on their own after their training, what would that have done to our medical system?

Knowledge is empowering. This past economic downturn has proved it is time for dentists to invest in learning modern dentistry. For example, only 34% of dentists are prescribing CAD/CAM milled restorations. The rest are using porcelain fused to metal (PFM).

Everything counts: the carpet in our office, the way the front desk greets patients, the fact that crowns fit and do not have ugly metal lines, the incorporation of modern technology, the ability to discuss sleep apnea and oral cancer.

We cannot just fill holes any more. It is not fair to our patients. The oral/systemic link is crucial to our patients' care, and it is imperative we educate our patients with this knowledge. Too many dentists still think of themselves as second-class medical professionals and do not understand the true magnitude of oral health and oral healthcare.

It is our duty to be mouth physicians and learn about new techniques and materials by attending proper continuing education courses. If we do not keep up with the rapidly changing advances, we will be taken over by groups who do not have our best interest in mind.

Helaine Smith, DMD, 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.

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