Time for dentistry to take it to the streets

By Helaine Smith, DMD, MBA

July 6, 2009 -- Editor's note: Helaine Smith's column, The Mouth Physician, appears regularly on the DrBicuspid.com advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

I was looking through a magazine and I saw an ad for Colgate toothpaste that illustrates the connection between a healthy mouth and its role in heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and serious gum disease. Kudos to Colgate. It is about time we educate the public that toothpaste is more than a fresh, minty taste and about the connection of oral health impacting the entire body.

“Dentistry needs a public relations campaign, and it is up to us to launch it.”

For more than a decade, the studies consistently show a link between the inflammatory process associated with gum disease and the effect it has on the body. Primary care physicians have so much to do in their 20-minute visits with their patients that as much as I wish they would ask about oral health, it is unlikely they will. It is up to us to educate the public, and Colgate is taking a great stance in changing the way we view toothpaste. Our profession needs to keep the momentum going.

Just last week, in fact, the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA) announced a new public awareness campaign, Oral Healthcare Can't Wait, in an effort to warn consumers about the risks of postponing regular dental checkups and recommended treatment. The campaign is impressive and well thought out, and I commend all the companies involved in this undertaking with the DTA. This is exactly the kind of message the public needs to hear.

I believe it is our responsibility at local levels to have campaigns educating the public on oral cancer and the importance of regular dental checkups. Often, the public does not understand why we want periapical radiographs, why we charge for periodic oral exams, and the importance of scaling and root planings. We need to do more to educate people about why all these things are important. Campaign ads at the local level would greatly help our mission. Reaching the consumer is the most effective way to bring attention to an issue.

Dentistry needs a public relations campaign, and it is up to us to launch it. We need to be our own best advocates. Providing service for our patients comes in many socioeconomic forms, and it seems that the trend is to ignore the needs of the majority of people who seek our care. Although many people can afford dentistry, that does not mean they should be overlooked and not educated on the importance of oral health. In turn, this will positively promote our profession.

It is time we all start acting like mouth physicians and start educating the public on oral health. Ignoring this will come back to bite us as the public is unaware of the complexity of the scope of services we offer and their implications on overall health. If we do not rise to this challenge, we will be considered disposable in the healthcare system and relegated to the status of tooth plumbers.

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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