Dr. Louis W. Sullivan’s observation that dental pain sends too many people to emergency rooms echoes what dentists have said for decades: the needless suffering caused by untreated oral disease that could have been prevented or easily treated in its early stages is unacceptable.
But we disagree with Dr. Sullivan’s proposed solution: allowing nondentists with as little as 18 months post-high school training to perform surgical procedures like extractions and pulpotomies (drilling through the hard tooth surface and removing soft tissue). This is especially true for the populations in greatest need, in which many people suffer from co-morbidities like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, or for children with rampant decay and the accompanying chronic infections.
We also question Dr. Sullivan’s suggestion that a shortage of dentists has caused the epidemic and his call for government to finance more dental schools. In fact, new schools have opened recently, and more are slated in the near future.
The country will never drill, fill and extract its way to victory over untreated dental disease. A public health system based primarily on surgical intervention in disease that could have easily been prevented is ill conceived and doomed to fail.
Until we focus on oral health education and disease prevention, the country will fail to meet the needs of those who face barriers to good oral health.
WILLIAM R. CALNON
Rochester, April 10, 2012
The writer is president of the American Dental Association.