Can the ADA do more to educate the public?

By Helaine Smith, DMD, MBA

October 21, 2008 -- Editor's note: Helaine Smith's column, The Mouth Physician, appears regularly on the advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

Leadership starts at the top and sets the tone. How often do we hear that? It is true and I ask myself, "What is the ADA doing to help us?" I am not a fan of organized dentistry because I feel it is a place for the dentists who want to hide and only do mediocre dentistry. It is easier for them to perform at a "C" level instead of being on their "A" game which takes a lot of effort. OK, I know I probably riled a lot of you, but let me explain my view.

How much can we hear about amalgam and the controversy over its safety? It is the same thing, different decade. Amalgam has its place, and as a child my teeth were restored with amalgam. I believe amalgam is safe, but I have successfully treated thousands of patients for more than 10 years without placing one amalgam. The ADA should spend its money more wisely instead of spreading the propaganda of how wonderful amalgam restorations are.

This is the 21st century, and not only has the technical side of dentistry advanced, so has the medical connection. We know so much about the oral cavity and the relationship it has to the entire body. You cannot pick up a journal and not see article after article devoted to this. Oral cancer screenings are a must for every patient, and we know periodontal disease puts patients at a high risk for low birth weight babies, heart disease, and diabetes to name a few major medical concerns.

Also, sleep apnea is a major health risk and often goes undiagnosed, but as a mouth physician I can look at my patients and tell immediately that they need to get a sleep study as they have large necks and macroglossia and constricted arches.

We are overwhelmed being the dentist, HR director, CEO, and overall good guy. Many patients still do not understand the importance of oral health.

The primary care physicians are no help as they are swamped, but that's still not an excuse. If they do not have time to ask patients when they last visited the dentist, then they could include that question on questionnaires patients fill out before their appointment. The three questions I have routinely seen are, "Do you wear your seat belt?" "Are you in an abusive relationship?" and "When was your last ob/gyn appointment?" Why can't, "When was your last dental visit?" be included?

So why is the ADA not running more ads and helping us in the educational process? The organization recently cosponsored an oral cancer campaign with national advertising that became very controversial. It has also done some surveys, put out a few press releases and brochures, and encouraged volunteers.

But much more needs to be done. An ad of a pregnant woman taking prenatal vitamins and reading a book about pregnancy could be shown and then a voice over could say, "Don't overlook your oral health, because it is important to the health of your unborn child." It is very simple: Just spend the money and launch an educational campaign on TV. Go directly to the consumer -- that is the most effective way to get the message out that oral care is important. People do not know this.

It is more challenging to be a mouth physician when the "leaders" at the top are acting like tooth plumbers.

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 © 2008


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