Dentistry has a tradition of being independent, self-governing, and able to meet the needs of the public and provide needed and wanted oral healthcare. We need to keep governmental control out of dentistry. How do we do this? By being creative, ingenious, and entrepreneurial. We need to provide solutions for ourselves, our patients, and our healthcare delivery systems. We need to maintain our independence and guide our profession. It is up to us to provide new processes, products, and systems for the private and public sector patients to keep the governmental wolf from our door.
The U.S. surgeon general's 2000 report on the status of oral health in America identified two major barriers to obtaining adequate oral healthcare: access and cost. This is still true, if not even more so, today. We need to directly address these formidable problems. We, the dental care providers of the U.S. -- not a governmental program -- should determine what we can do and how much we are going to be paid for doing it.
Start by giving back
A few years ago, after being forced to retire prematurely due to back problems, I decided I wanted to give back. So I developed a method of making full dentures in one hour at one-third the cost of conventional dentures. No lab is needed, and it can be done anywhere, even outside of the dental office. This approach offers the ability to do dentures in nursing homes, on Indian reservations, in rural clinics, and even in underserved urban areas. Easily learned, it is a technique that dentists can use in all aspects of patient care.
We are now providing these dentures for Remote Area Medical (RAM), a philanthropic program based in Tennessee that provides healthcare, both dental and medical, to those without access and the ability to pay for care. RAM relies on donated supplies and equipment, with volunteer dentists and ancillary staff. The applicability was demonstrated at the recent RAM clinic in Bristol, TN, where more than 1,600 patients were seen in a single weekend.
While dental volunteerism is important, it is not the solution. The real solution is, as stated above, to come up with new methods and delivery systems to increase the availability and affordability of dental care. Dentists are creative craftsmen and women, intelligent, and able to adapt to constantly changing situations. We see this daily in our practices when the "I've never seen this before" happens, and we find a solution to whatever it might be. As with the dentures I developed, there are many solutions to our healthcare problems. A comment to a recent article on DrBicuspid.com about the 10-year anniversary of the surgeon general's report noted that not much has changed over the past decade. Now, more than ever, is the time to make that change.
In order to maintain the control, leadership, and direction of dentistry, it is incumbent on us, the dental profession, to become creative and visionary in how we provide dental care. As in all areas of life, there can be, and is, a better way. We just need to find it. I am writing this hopefully to inspire the spark of creativity needed to keep dentistry the shining light of healthcare: independent, caring, available to all, and free of outside influence.
Lawrence Wallace, D.D.S., is a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon who is a consultant to the medical insurance industry in oral surgery. He is also the founder of the Larell One Step Denture. His offices are in Carmel Valley, CA.
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