In this issue, Inside Dentistry features the results of a national survey speaking to the public perception of dentists and dentistry. The findings are often striking, often surprising, and I believe they are worthy of your attention.
Giving Patients What They Want. The National Oral Health Survey reported that there is a discrepancy between what patients want from their dentists and what they are receiving. In particular, the survey respondents cited a desire for more attention to be paid to issues of oral health beyond functional esthetics. Periodontal disease and oral cancer screening were foremost in their minds, but they also indicated a desire for dentists to address issues pertaining to their systemic health—topics once considered “appropriate” only for the offices of a physician.
Giving Patients What They Need. Shakespeare wrote of the danger of being “baited by the rabble’s curse,” and that is an important consideration here. The findings of the survey should be pondered, but always in light of our position as educated and clinically trained healthcare providers. Mainstream media inundates the public with health information, much of it good, some of it specious. The survey respondents’ hue and cry for change in how dentists approach their care must be balanced against the very nature of that care. Should we address issues of periodontal disease, oral cancer, and the hazards of smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs? Certainly—we have a responsibility as medical practitioners to advise our patients to the best of our ability. But we must make certain our advice and our examinations are bolstered by the best and most recent information that hard science has to offer regarding potential connections between oral and systemic health, otherwise we are doing a disservice, not a service, to our patients.
Exceeding Expectations. Take the particulars of the survey as you will; the overall message remains clear: there is a call for dentists to be more proactive; to improve their communication with their patients, not only about issues of oral health, but of general health. In the era of the “1 5-minute medication check-up” that dominates other medical specialties, dentists have a unique opportunity to provide a higher standard of service to their patients. Our attention to this message and our vigilance in enforcing it is one way in which we can not only meet, but exceed our patients’ expectations regarding their oral healthcare, thus illuminating a whole new public perception of dentistry.
With warm regards,
Gerard Kugel, DMD, MS, PhD
Associate Dean for Research
Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
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