Can We Talk? We Sure Can!

The author takes us on a guided tour of dental discussion groups on the Internet.

by Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH

The author takes us on a guided tour of dental discussion groups on the Internet. Discussion groups relieve isolation, as well as provide answers, new friendships, and a healthy dose of fun.

Firstly, I must say that I am not a computer geek. I know where the "on" button is. I know where to put the square thing and the round thing and how to open some files that I'm not supposed to know about. Like driving a car, I know where to find the gas pedal and the slot for the key. I also know when something is wrong with my car. Squeaking is not good; knocking is not good. If I came upon my computer one day and it had a blank screen, I would be in a panic – the same panic I would feel if I turned the key in my car and it didn't start. I live at my little laptop computer. The letters E, R, and most of T are worn off. I've inflicted a row of fingernail cuts in the letter N from my right index finger. My right thumb has worn a polished dent into the the spacebar.

The Internet is an important part of my computer experience. I use America Online as my portal to cyberspace. I've carved a path though the Internet over the past five years or so and I don't stray very often. It's a dynamite trail –safe, short, and sweet.

I can finish my online activities in 30 to 45 minutes because online discussion groups are not chat rooms. Email is the best way to contact your new and old friends, but I'm not going to spend time discussing that. It's fantastic, to be sure, but there's so much more to know about.

The variety and sheer volume of information on the Internet is magnificent. Whatever your interest or hobby or problem, the answer can be found there. Sure, you have to be careful, but you have to be careful crossing the street, too. You need to be aware of your surroundings just like in real life. Don't download files you did not ask for and don't open or respond to anything sent to you from an unknown source. That's it.

Fun dental hygiene is all over the 'net. Not only do all the big companies have Web sites that you can access, but many local dental hygiene components and Internet-savvy hygienists have sites as well. Bright colors grab your attention; and interesting information about people, products, and designs make for a great site. Check out some of the Web sites created by the columnists in this magazine.

A great place to start –whether you're a "newbie" or not –is Amy Neives' Web page. In your little browser window, type in www.amyrdh.com. This will be your window to escape dental hygiene solitude. Amy Neives has set up a Web page with links to every (I think) dental hygiene interest in the USA, including links to many other sites put together by dental hygienists. When you're finished looking over the home page, go to the upper-left corner and join the RDH email community. Clicking there will send you to a place called Yahoo!Groups.

The Yahoo!Groups page (groups.yahoo.com) is where you can join almost 900 dental hygienists throughout the world who are discussing all topics relating to the practice of dental hygiene –grumpy patients, grumpy doctors, ultrasonic scaling, production numbers, advanced degrees, commissions, CDC fluoride guidelines, oral malodors, ergonomics –and anything else you can think up.

The site is moderated, which means that Amy reads every single post (email) before the rest of the group does. This assures a couple of things. First, there are no discussions that are off-topic –no abortion debates, no war vs. peace, or hatred –yet it is safe to express your feelings and thoughts about your chosen profession. Probably the only thing that isn't appropriate is personal information. A story comes to mind about a married hygienist who went out to lunch on a work day with a patient (of the opposite sex) and had a glass of wine to boot. She was frantic and wanted to know what to do about her infidelity to her spouse and her profession. Yikes! The hygiene forum is open to hundreds and hundreds of hygienists, so baring your soul isn't appropriate; plus, the news could get to people it's not supposed to get to.

Internet lists are a haven for single-practitioner hygienists. Since Amy's list is moderated, she can control who joins. This list is for hygienists only. There are a couple of dentists who are members; however, they keep a very low profile and use the information hygienists discuss as food for thought, not as pinching points.

Navigating to other dental groups

To use Yahoo!Groups, you'll need to choose a password. I started to keep an address book near my computer for all the passwords. For years, I used the same password for everything; however, every now and then, a site will have a different rule for passwords and I have to come up with a different one. I've been using the Internet for over five years, and I just now got myself a little book for all the passwords!

While you're at the Yahoo! site, you also can join a couple of other groups devoted to hygiene and dentistry. Dr. Larry Burnett runs the next-best email list: groups.yahoo.com/group/periodon tal/join. Dr. Burnett's list has the narrower focus of infectious dental diseases, periodontal disease, and caries. The discussions are open to all people, not just dental professionals. A number of patients have found answers to questions and even treatment for their periodontal disease via this list. No, they are not treated via the Internet, but they are directed to hygienists and dentists on the list. About 200 members are on this list, and Dr. Burnett does not moderate it. All email goes directly to the members without screening.

Dentfriends also is a Yahoo!Groups list (groups.yahoo.com /group/dentfriend/join). To meet others here, you need to be a dental professional. It is the only one that's purple (if you please). Office managers, assistants, doctors, hygienists, and lab techs share their unique perspectives on many different aspects of patient care and other dental issues. The moderator of this group is Pat Buss, RDH; and the owner of the Dentfriends Web site is Daniel Waskie. It's URL is www.dentfriend.net (not ".com

Another Yahoo!Groups site is genR8Next (groups.yahoo.com /group/genR8Next/join). It's not moderated, either. This list is huge –over a thousand members. Dr. Mike Maroon started the list. The members of this group have large conferences all over the United States.

It's really fun to actually meet hygienists from these lists. "Lister" meetings are at nearly all of the larger dental meetings around the U.S. Listers get together and put names to faces informally over breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

List delivery modes, search options, and services

One of the nice features of Yahoo!Groups is that you can control how much mail you get in your mail box. You can choose to have each individual email delivered to your email address, or you can choose to have a single digest instead.

If you choose the digest mode, a single email will come to your address once per day, sometimes twice, with an entire day's worth of posts. When you're at the home page of any of the Yahoo!Groups, click on the "Edit My Membership" tab on the upper right to choose the delivery modes. The digest is a great option for a list like RDH or GenR8Next, because some days can net well over 20 emails. Reading the mail this way makes it easy to skip over the ones that are not of interest to you.

Another way is to read all the mail at the Yahoo!Groups Web site. The biggest advantage is that all the posts –in perpetuity –are there, instead of clogging your mailbox and piling up on your hard drive. In addition, the messages are searchable from the Web site. For example, if you have a question about sharpening instruments, you can just type it into the search box, and every post dealing with sharpening in that group will come up. The only drawback is the enormous amount of advertising at the site and on the posted emails.

Yahoo!Groups has features available to all members of the group. One is the file feature. The periodontal list uses this feature more than the other groups. It features radiographs of the patients we've helped, text files, and a PowerPoint presentation on xylitol.

The other features are "polling" and the calendar. Automatic reminders of meetings, seminars, monthly breast exams, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., are posted when the time is right. Any member can put a reminder into the calendar. My book club uses the polling feature at Yahoo! to pick books and dates to meet.

Even more dental talk

The Internet Dental Forum (IDF), is another great list (www.internetdentalforum.org). It is "stand-alone," meaning that it isn't part of a group network such as Yahoo! This list is run by Dr. David Dodell who created it in 1993. The posted purpose of the IDF is: "To promote conversation regarding dentistry among those directly involved with patient care, be it a dentist, dental hygienist, dental technician, dental assistant, dental student, etc." This one costs a little money, because Dr. Dodell uses leased data lines and his own equipment and time to run this group of lists, unlike the Yahoo! site which is paid for by advertisers. Dr. Dodell offers a couple of lists to choose from. Some are specific to certain areas of interest, such as dental drugs and dental labs. You must be a verifiable dental-care provider to be a member of any of Dr. Dodell's lists.

The most open, "down and dirtiest" list is a newsgroup called Sci.Med.Dentistry, which, I found out also was originated by Dr. Dodell. This was the precursor of all email lists. Newsgroups were part of the Internet at its inception. Anyone with a computer can post messages. There are almost no rules, which is why the good doctor says it's a disaster.

All the bad things that can happen in an unmonitored group happen there –ranting from anti-amalgamists, people fearing fluoride, people suffering with TMJ disorders so severe they cannot eat –you name it. Conversations can degrade in record time. People rail against dentistry as a profession, against this and that. People argue in slow motion, sometimes returning fire a day later. So why is this kind of stuff on my pathway through cyberspace? "Kill" files.

Controlling trolls, SPAM, and other unpleasantries

Most Internet providers have a kill file or ignore file of some kind. You can type in the names of the offending people or ignore entire subjects. The ignore feature is the best invention for handling newsgroups. In my ignore file, for example, I have the words: sex (and various body parts), ">" and " <" (symbols used to highlight SPAM), "$cientology," scientology, hate, and the names of a couple of known trolls. This limits the posts I get to the ones I want to read. While I'm not opposed to sex, I don't want to be inundated with off-topic (OT) posts about it on my dental site.

To get there, use the search engine, "Google," which is an excellent engine to use for any purpose. Don't ask me how search engines work or how one is different from another. To me, it's the same as the difference between motor oils for your car. One is probably better, they all start out clear amber and come out black, and you need them to make the car work.

Search engines, in my book, help a person search. In your browser window, type in www.google.com. Near the top of the screen on the home page is a tab called "Groups." Click on that tab. Now you have a screen that lists many different groups. In the second column, find the one called "sci.," and click on it. Now you'll see a group of topics clustered around the general topic of science. In the right-hand column, find "sci.med." and click on it, then click on "Sci.Med.Dentistry" on the screen that follows. Ta da! There you have the most basic way to communicate to others on topics of dentistry and all things surrounding dentistry. If you use AOL, go to the top bar, click on Services, Internet, Newsgroups; then, "expert add," then type in "sci.med.dentistry.") This is where you will encounter SPAM and trolls.

SPAM is an unauthorized, unabashed, misleading post; sometimes SPAM is an advertisement for unsubstantiated products like magic beans or diabetes cures. "Troll" is the name given to individuals in newsgroups who distract the goings-on, and they are generally hateful folks. Recently, a dentist made a comment about the German language. The troll immediately started a tirade about that doctor denying the holocaust. Go figure! If you want to find out how anti-amalgamists think or where antifluoridation people come from, check out this newsgroup. There is much saber-clashing regarding these two topics at this newsgroup. My other favorite newsgroups are sci.med.nursing and sci.med.pharmacy. They exhibit the same plights.

Narrowing your searches for relevant information

The final place where I get information is Entrez PubMed (go back to Google, hit the Web tab near the top, then type Entrez PubMed into the window). Once there, type in something dental, like "music pain dentistry" (I got seven hits), now type in "fluoride." It came up with 1,355 pages of information on fluoride! To narrow it down, you can add "NOT fluorosis," which will limit hits to articles that do not include that term. Or, you can type in "fluoride remineralization" or anything else you want or do not want to narrow your choices. Sometimes, adding a word will increase the scope, not decrease it. For example, if you type in "periodontal disease," you'll get every article that contains the word "disease" as well as "periodontal." In this case, typing in only the word "periodontal" will narrow your search. "Periodontal cardiac" will narrow it even further.

When you see an article you like or want to know more about, click on the author's name and an abstract of the article appears. You may be able to get a full article print-out; but, usually, you will have to go to a medical or dental library to get the full text.

If you need to go to the library, it's easy to print out a list of the articles you want to search out. To the left of the list of authors is a small box. Click in the box and a little check mark appears. Do this to all the articles you want to look up. At the bottom and top on the screen, you will see a label called "Clip Add." Click on this, and when it's done processing, you will notice that the entries you had marked are now green. Next, click on the word "Clipboard" near the top of the screen, and all the entries that you wanted to look up on your next trip to the library are there. Now, print it out. It's really that easy.

Your computer is so much more than a very expensive game player, stereo system, or answering machine. It's a powerful tool to help keep you in the loop. I'll probably never make a music CD or edit a film. I do not chat on the Internet, as that tends to be a very deep vortex into which time can disappear rapidly. I also do not read or respond to every single email on any of the lists I belong to.

Don't forget, you do have to live a life outside of the little box. A computer is a life-enhancing tool, not a life-replacement tool. For those who are not using their computers to help increase their knowledge or for decreasing their solitude and isolation, it is my wish that this article helped you to use it for that. For those with a new computer, I hope that I have shown you the way to become less isolated and share your insights with others in our profession.

    Dental discussion groups and links:
  • www.amyrdh.com
  • www.yahoogroups.com
  • www.dentfriend.net
  • groups.yahoo.com/group/genR8Next/join
  • www.ms-flossy.com
  • www.internetdentalforum.org
  • www.ncbi.nlm.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed

Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, has been a full-time practicing dental hygienist in Madison, Wis., since 1986. Ms. Gutkowski is published in print and on Internet sites, and speaks to groups through Cross Links Presentations. She can be contacted by email at dentwrite@aol.com.

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