The call to science

June 1, 2004
Another way to divide up humanity is to send a third of it off to whatever self-fulfillment exercise is happening in the neighborhood this weekend.

by Mark Hartley

Another way to divide up humanity is to send a third of it off to whatever self-fulfillment exercise is happening in the neighborhood this weekend. Another third can be reminded of where the recliner is.

"Let's go! We're going to be late for our class on mathematical equations derived from the paintings of 16th Century Bulgarian artists," a member of the first group exclaims.

"The sun is out. Birds are singing. I'm comfortable in the hammock," says someone from the second group.

"Life is too short! Get up!" the first group cries out.

"Here are the keys. Drive yourself there," is the response from the second group.

As you can see, there's some potential for conflict and contempt here. Personally, I don't think there's anything mentally wrong with either group. That's because the other third of humanity consists of me and probably you. I like to think I work hard. There are also days where I enjoy doing absolutely nothing, being as unproductive as I can possibly be. (I have no idea if the CEO reads these Editor's Notes. Just to be safe, I should observe that I take a day of vacation for those zero-exertion days — unless the computer network the CEO purchased crashes.)

Laziness, in my mind, is acceptable when indulged in moderation. Excessive laziness more than likely means that responsibilities are being shirked and people dependent upon you are harmed by your inactivity.

It's the other extreme that I want to talk about, particularly as it pertains to the "call to science" in dentistry.

But, first, I have a few words to say about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was a third grader at an elementary school in suburban Dallas when, arguably, the city's most famous homicide happened. The assassination evolved into a variety of theories over the years. The term "grassy knoll" eventually referred to just one plot of land in downtown Dallas, as opposed to thousands of similar landscapes throughout the Great Plains.

The theories always struck me as being more irritating than interesting to consider. In 1993, though, I waded through pages and pages of footnoted evidence in Gerald Posner's Case Closed to arrive at the conclusion that Oswald acted alone.

You might say that Case Closed was my attempt to let science (the tools of history and journalism) guide me to an evidence-based decision. I'm glad I read the book.

I'm all for the call to science in dental hygiene. What I don't support is a current tendency to shame or lay a guilt trip on members of the dental hygiene profession if they don't read scientific articles or attend certain seminars at a pace that the accusers deem necessary. As far as I'm concerned, those folks belong to that first third of humanity discussed earlier — they get a little carried away on what they believe should be mandatory for everyone.

The bottom line is that the definition of dentistry has been established. Licensed dental professionals have to demonstrate a high level of intelligence and skill to achieve licensure, as well as to maintain licensure. If you don't feel like deciphering a complicated abstract about research this evening after practicing dental hygiene all day, don't worry about it. I won't squeal on you.

I came across an interesting statistic in the local newspaper. In late April, hearings convened in Oklahoma City about the issue of malpractice payouts. The article said that 3.6 percent of Oklahoma physicians are responsible for 43 percent of the malpractice payouts. So a handful of doctors are responsible for almost half of the claims! Perhaps I should do an evidence-based study on whether the statistics in Oklahoma are similar to other states and dentistry. But, for the purposes of writing this message, I'm inclined to think that Oklahoma is not an oddball state — trends here are likely similar to trends elsewhere.

The point is that somewhere around 96 percent of you are providing good care. You still get hammered for the other half of the malpractice suits, so you need to heed the call of science somewhat vigorously, and stay abreast of changes in treatment philosophies.

Just don't let the gurus make you feel guilty; you deserve praise for what you accomplish as a dental professional. Catch up on your reading of science when you can.

Speaking of the call to science, I should conclude by pointing out the excellent review of dry mouth conditions in older women that is enclosed with this issue. Sheryl Ernest Syme, RDH, wrote the article as part of Oral-B's Case Studies in Dental Hygiene. If, for some reason, the supplement does not appear with this issue of RDH, you can also read it online at

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].