From the Dental Archives

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Citation of Original:

Walton, JC. Popular Dental Education and the Newspaper. Dental Cosmos 37(2) Feb. 1895:85-89.

Popular Dental Education and the Newspaper

By J.C. Walton, D.D.S., Howell, Mich.

To those to whom the subject of personal apperance counts but little, who know nothing of enunciation as a fine art, who never plan for future comfort and health, or with whom hygine and cleanliness is a vague fancy unworthy of serious consideration, a tooth is of little value. Outcropping popular notions concerning the importance of dentistry are often humiliating, indicating vividly and truly our position among the professions.

Lack of professional qualifications and of moral responsibility to some extent now, but more especially in the past, are responsible for this lack of confidence in us. Promises unsupported by actions belittle us professionally. Indiscriminate harm is worked by destroying publinc confidence. The miserable inefficiency and deceit of the dregs of the profession is recognized by the few, but not by the many. There are millions of teeth being sacrificed because the masses donot know the possibilites of our art. Thousands are suffering agony untold because they do not know where to get relief, or have not the educated courage to apply to a dentist. Occasionally people die from causes that we should understand and can remedy better than any one else. At the same time there are many of us impatiently sitting in our offices waiting for an opportunity to sell our services to just such people. With a lack and a want of dental service on the one hand, and a lack and a want of employment on the other, matters are left to balance themselves somehow.

There are seventeen thousand dentists in the United States, of whom many are desperately idle, while there is dentistry enough undone that could be done to satisfy fifty thousand. What is lacking is some method of establishinga change of sentiment on the part of the public, giving information concerning their dental needs and possible betterment, directing attention to the proper source of service, etc., denouncing evil and announcing good, thus contradicting the effect of fraudulent and inefficient practice. The needs of the people and the needs of the dentist should be made to fit each other. Such a way should have the support of the best element in the profession, but should not be perverted to support its selfish ends to the exclusion of popular need. It should be attractive to the average practitioner, and, if possible, to those on the lowest rounds of the professional ladder. To meet these requirements , it must be in an educational way. The benefits likely to result from the popularizing of such information have been seen and discussed, but no acceptable plan devised. The subject should not be shelved. With everybody needing dental aid, and large additions to our ranks being made yearly, some modern means of conveying thoughts sure to be of benefit to mankind seems a logical necessity. It is but concrete professionalism and common sense amalgamated. The quack, with an audacity in inverse proportion to his qualifications, is the educator of the masses to-day. With illustrations and deceitful advertising he attracts and educates, right or wrong. The time is ripe for competent educators to bear a hand. To our shame, the commercial spirit in our ranks has pulled the profession, against its declared will, this way and that. Despite our protestations, amalgams, rubber, celluloid, porcelain teeth, crowns, and bridge-work are what they are, and, in general, fairly well used, because of the demand of people educated by commercialism.

"Painless dentistry" has been forced upon us in the same manner. Commercialism has made the more successful appeal to the masses, and it is because of its success that we hate it; yet we have profited thereby, for it is by meeting such resistance that we develop. The commercial dentist is restless and aggressive, and we cry out against his efforts to monopolize the buisiness, but the people profit by it in the long run in better and cheaper dentistry. Thus the dark side of dentistry is not without its compensations.

But incompetent dentists are everywhere taking advantage of the people's ignorance. Commercialism profits by the popular demand, and ultra-ethicalism loses by a blind adherence to a chivalrous sentiment. It is now time for our conscientious, practical men to step forward and make themselves as useful as possible to their fellows and to the community. To this end they must instruct their people when instruction is needed, and by force of character and reason lead them. The time is past when the physician or any one else should dominate in dental matters. When we find an effective way to give good instruction and follow with good service, the relation of dentist to patient will be more honored, and complimentary, and remunerative. There is little humanity, and less philanthropy, in withholding beneficial knowledge where innocent ignorance is of necessity the greatest sufferer. Humanitarian interest in mankind should be stimulated rather than smothered. We are dependent upon public favor for the opportunity to be useful. Prominence is evidence of public approval. Public educators in any line attain more or less prominance. Prominence adds profit and satisfaction to any dentist, and is rightly sought by all. We should manage the relationship with skill, honesty, and prudence; but "we" should direct, and not the public. If we lead, we must also teach. Leaders are expected to say something. The giving of proper instruction will be found the basis for a confidence that is not easily shaken. To be successful we must inspire and retain public confidence. It is the best, nay the only, way to allay that mistrust of dentists which is so widely prevalent. That there is a popular doubt about our being equal to our present tasks is often seen. That our profession is a resort for the half educated, the tricky, the shiftless, is a not unpopular notion, and is well sustained by our present newspaper contingent. Who enjoys seeing this notion of our educational standard maintained? Will not proper efforts change it? In this state of things it is a satisfaction to know that our best men do maintain the standard of a scholarly profession. This, however, is not enough. We want the world to know it, to profit by it, and we also wish to profit by it.

Education is the best weapon with which to meet competition, incompetency, and deception. Ignorance is an influence most potent for harm. The errors of incompetent dentists, past and present, defeat us often. The itinerant is not so long out of date as to be forgotten. He lives in the memory of our older people, and his failures are reported to the third and fouth generations. The news that a change is taking place in the average ability of dentists is not yet confirmed to the minds of half the people, and of these a large percentage are subject to a discouraging lapse of faith.

"Have it out and be done with it," and other stereotyped expressions, betray the impatience and lack of confidence still current, and suggenst an action to the impulsive that is likely to bring regrets. People should be told that they are not done with it when the natural teeth are gone. We need to put into current language simple, effective expressions that will suggest a contrary action. They must be repeated until they are memorized by everybody. "Teeth extracted without pain." With what chagrin do many of us face these immortal words. To the intelligent the description is becoming manifest, but the harm has gone on until ministers and actors crack jokes about the abominable phrase. It is an obligation that we should sympathize with those who suffer, and seek to alleviate or prevent pain, but the seductive charm in these words has been recognized by us for years and winked at. It is high time every honest practitioner should be encouraged to raise his protest against practicing dentistry as a confidence game. It is a low and unworthy view any one takes of his office when he assumes that he has nothing to do with public ignorance, except as he may be called upon to operate for a compensation. The past years have been prolific in acts of indiscretion, and danger little short of crime. Public sentiment tolerates and invites the infliction, because it knows no better. It is a reproach upon us which crops out in current literature, and from the pulpit and the stage.

Professional history is the story of an endless conflict between the intellectually strong and the weak, the strong grasping always for more, the weak striving ever for enough. Sometimes the struggle is for professional dominion, sometimes for lucrative possession. It matters not in the last analysis; both mean the same,-control. Sometimes the strong win by intellectual acumen. At first their weapon is the code; anon it is the law. First we appeal to the Don Quixote element, -chivlarous sentiment, -resting long, hopefully secure in its shelter. Later we begin to chafe under code restrictions, and seek to interpret more liberally. In recent years legislative enactments have been sought and obtained, but we have not begun to enjoy dominion before we discover that public sentiment does not favorably support us, and we fail to dominate; test cases of Michigan's new law in Grand Rapids showing plainly a lack of popular support.

The intellectually and numerically weak element, having no chivalrous sentiment to support, have adopted tactics and weapons adapted to our time. They choose the machine gun; we the popgun. They effectually reach thousands daily, while our method reaches one weekly. I am aware that any suggestion about the use of the public press arouses the fear that professional welfare will be imperiled by the ignorant and viscious. There should be no such fear. Intellectual force is the very highest power, and in the end, with equal chance, overcomes every resistance.

We have seen that dignified, uncompromising silence does not enlighten our citizens; that society management is careless or incapable; that those who have made any effort have practically wasted their capacity in trivial ways and need suggestions. We are growing to see that the true value of education is its power to solve in the quickest and surest way our position toward each other and the people. By the proper use of educational means we shall win recognition if we are efficient. Scrutinized without prejudice, any successful plan should be welcomed as an onward step in the march of the profession, which, though often hindered, has never been turned backward during the past fifty years. Without it our condition and position alike must remain insignificant, and we must continue to bear no helpful part in the affairs of public health, sanitation, or hygiene. The army, navy, prisons, reformatories, asylums, hospitals, and public charities in general will never use us for any purpose but tooth-pulling. We have something to do more than declare our position to convince the world. Many of us have undertaken the fight with pamphlet popguns, as recommended from time to time by the American Dental Association (see report Section II, Dental education, etc., 1894). The objection to this plan is that it is ineffective.

The masses read the newspaper when they read anything, therefore to ignore them is to shut out the dawning hope of popular dental education. It may be it should be a powerful factor on the side of right and reform, and a silent worker of extensive influence against which no arguement can be sustained. It can be made the best as it is now the most dangerous missionary agent in the world. It is the resource we need for popularizing effective dental teaching. Impatient contempt of such means is not wisdom, and is not justified in the light of failure of other means.

We, the profession, are responsible for the widespread ignorance and misinformation about dental affairs which prevail everywhere. The meager scraps of information circulating among the masses are ill-chosen and unrepresentative. Proper sentiment and correct instruction spread in the newspapers would counteract these absurd popular impressions. Then, too, teaching implies growth and continuous self-culture. We will grow intellectually by our efforts to instruct; our services will be more valuable to our patients; and they in turn will quicker learn to appreciate our success.

This tendency to oppose any method of instructing that does not savor the old-fashioned is one of the breaks that prevent the quick transmission of acceptable impressions of our aim and status. Such opposition is based on the erroneous notion that we are not justified in adopting any means used by the commercial world. All matters of human interest may now appear in our newspapers. The most trifling things, as well as science, religion, and philanthropy, constitute its legitimate domain. The great question of life in all its forms is its constant theme. Information that is educative and correct should be acceptable to the profession and the people, and , without catering to a low plane of traffic, it will direct the community in dental intelligence. Profit to the masses and ourselves will follow. Secretly we are all conversant with the causes and springs of action in professional life. There is such a thing as legitimate gain. To protecto or increase it is an admissible, admirable ambition. The better educated the dentist and the better educated his patients in dentistry, the more secure he is in his practice and the better compensation he may expect. The talk of the time which assumes that we forfeit the interest of the profession by attention to the buisness side of it is not justified by results. There are in the United States 14,017 publications of weekly issue, 235 publish twice a week, 31 every other day, and 1835 publish daily. Altogether their total issue is 4,000,000,000 copies per year. If every dentist were to put out 1000 pamphlets in a year, the total would only be 17,000,000, or about 1 to 235. Probably not one person in a thousand has ever read such a pamphlet.

We are admonished by our code that "it is our duty to enlighten and warn the public" (see Article IV). A liberal interpretation will permit the means here advocated. The newspaper is at once the most acceptable to the masses, and the surest, quickest, and most economical way for us to reach the public. Let our state societies lead by creating an editorship and adding from two to five counselors, who shall be in sympathy with the object, understand their duties, and the needs of the people. To the editor let any one send to copies of any article he wishes to publish, one to be filed and the other to be sent back approved, or corrected and approved. Their duties will be to watch over all publications, assist in supplying matter, secure the public against falsification and error, encourage and stimulate the profession to educational effort, and see to it that nothing is sown broadcast unless inspired with full information and prepared after deliberate reflection. Such a plan is liberal, just, ethical, and philanthropic. It may be made effective and profitable. Add to this the quick investigation and report of new nostrums, processes, methods, machinery, etc., upon market appearance, and we shall soon reach the professional position we deserve. If this present educational inertia is not followed by emphatic changes, the professional disgrace, the internal discord, and the public danger of the past will be the condition of the future.

Data Entry: EMM.

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Date last edited: May 12, 1999.