Shocking dental images

We are a society that often seeks the unusual, shocking, or even disturbing to stimulate our senses.

By Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

We are a society that often seeks the unusual, shocking, or even disturbing to stimulate our senses. Photos that draw attention accompany news stories, whether or not the photos pertain to the report. Dentistry is not immune to this need for shock and awe. We salivate over those walls of calculus shots and daydream of creating healing-enhanced surfaces. Though we can discuss bleeding, odor, and exudate at lunch, sometimes even our eyes want to turn from certain scenes, but we just can't seem to look away.

Social media and my inbox have been flooded lately with just such dental images. As dental hygienists, our first reaction is, "Get me an ultrasonic scaler and let me at it." My initial reaction was no different, but as the images kept coming, I began to wonder about the circumstances surrounding the photographs. As health-care providers, what bigger picture are we missing?

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Other articles by Lory Laughter

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There are many websites displaying photos of dental disease in the extreme, and finding them is easy. Simply go to your favorite search engine (Yahoo!, Bing, Google, and others) and type "dental calculus" in the search box. You will have more photos than your eyes wish to view, and access to hundreds more through additional links in the articles.

As I spent an evening pulled by some unseen force to keep seeking these photos, it occurred to me that they all have some things in common. Many had lesions unnoticed or uncommented on by other viewers, signs of trauma or exposure, especially on the lips, and of course, signs of neglect. Even more disturbing: Many photos were of children or young adults. My suspicion is most of the subjects in these images are unable to care for their needs and unable to find the help necessary for maintaining health in general. The obvious next question is, "What are we doing about it?"

As dental hygienists, we proclaim ourselves the prevention specialists, yet we fail to prevent obvious neglect and disease. I am not a naïve idealist, and I realize our services cannot reach every individual, but my feeling is that if a camera can find these issues, we should be looking to alleviate the same. This set me off on a search for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those who cannot always find needed care.

Many RDHs volunteer for dental care missions around the globe, and while it is not my purpose to list all of them here, a hearty round of applause from me to you. For the rest of us who may need a place to start sharing our skills, time, and knowledge, the Internet provides information about volunteer opportunities, from your own neighborhood to the vast reaches of our planet.

A great place to look is your state dental hygiene association website. A quick look at the California Dental Hygienists' Association site,1 shows two upcoming volunteer opportunities on the home page -- just click and register, and you're set to serve. Being active in your local component also leads to chances to provide service in your area. Many components sponsor sealant and/or varnish days at health fairs and schools.

Another site with an extensive list of dental mission opportunities is Medical Missions.org.2 The prospects offered on the site range from short trips to longer stays. Some trips serve dual purposes, such as medical/dental or evangelical/dental services. You can also visit Dental Volunteer,3 and search for a chance to make a difference in someone's health and life. By using "dental" as a keyword and scaling and root planing as a procedure, 49 volunteer chances are offered, most in the U.S.

Perhaps the best method for finding volunteer opportunities doesn't involve an Internet search at all. We all know a person who currently donates his or her dental skills and time to those in underserved areas. Send a Facebook message or pick up the phone and inquire as to how you can become involved in the next trip, mission, or day of care.

The dental professional who comes to my mind as one who gives without hesitation, and cares beyond reason, is Dr. Adrian Fenderson.4 Though not an RDH, he has the dental hygienist spirit of treating the underserved. Dr. Fenderson spent his first year in dentistry as an army dentist serving in Vietnam, where he not only treated American military personnel, but also provided free dentistry to local villagers. Since 1969, he has made over 50 humanitarian trips to provide no-cost dental services all over the world. He also volunteers with the LMV Corporation, better known as the Flying Doctors.5

I encourage you to really study those disturbing dental photos that find their way to your Facebook feed or email inbox and decide how you can assist in truly changing the situation. Be shocked and excited by the jump in your heart rate at the prospect of finding the teeth among the calculus and plaque, and be disturbed just enough to take action -- in your neighborhood, state, country, or world.

Website addresses mentioned in this column

1) http://www.cdha.org
2) http://www.medicalmissions.org/mission-trips/dental-professional/
3) http://www.healthcarevolunteer.com
4) http://www.itsallaboutsmiles.com
5) http://www.fdoamerica.org

LORY LAUGHTER, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She can be contacted at lorylaughter@aol.com.

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