Go ahead, eat a Dr. John's lollipop, and another, and another. They are among the newest tools in the dental-care arsenal. The orange-flavored lollipops contain an herbal extract that temporarily inhibits tooth decay.
And then there's computer-assisted design technology that enables a patient to get a crown sized, made and fitted all with one visit. No repeat trips to the dentist, no icky impressions, no temporary crowns.
Also new is saliva diagnostics. "We now have the ability to screen for many medical diseases, such as HIV and diabetes, using a patient's saliva," says Dr. Ron Tankersley, a Newport News resident who is president-elect of the American Dental Association.
Even traditional X-rays have been eclipsed. Cone Beam CT imaging provides a three-dimensional reconstruction of the jaws, sinuses, nasal passageways, even the entire skull, says Dr. Thomas Eschenroeder, an oral surgeon with Commonwealth Oral and Facial Surgery. Using this technology, Eschenroeder's dental team discovered that a benign tumor had pushed a patient's wisdom tooth into his sinus. They pinpointed the locations and removed the tumor and tooth without complications.
Dr. Chris R. Richardson, a periodontist, highlights the use of highly concentrated cellular growth factors to regenerate bone during bone grafts. This is good news for patients who have gum disease or are receiving an implant.
Richardson also cites a combined June report published in the American Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Periodontoloy that recognizes the relationship between gum disease and other ailments, particularly heart disease.
"Too often, dental health is an afterthought," Tankersley says. "Research is increasingly showing a correlation between oral health and medical diseases, confirming that oral health is an important part of overall health."
Top Dental Instructor: Dr. Michael Dishman, VCU School of Dentistry
The nose doesn't light up like the patient in the Operation game, but the artificial head gives sound and light cues that indicate bad form. VCU School of Dentistry students train with this tool.
"We incorporated DentSim about two or three years ago," instructor Dr. Michael Dishman explains. "It's computer-based and really cool. Good for this age group. They're game players, and this exercise works with their psychomotor skills. The computer is evaluating their techniques, making it much more relevant."
Dishman, the first of his Danville, Va., family to graduate from college, studied at Randolph-Macon College and the then-Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry, where he finished in 1974. He went into private practice in Naples, Fla., for 12 years before returning closer to home and began instruction at VCU in the summer of 1988.
One of his major responsibilities, Dishman says, is remaining current. He finds that his students are savvier about their professional lives than his class was. "They look into the possibilities more than we did. We were starry-eyed. They just have access to so much more information, and many of them have choices about how they want to proceed in their careers."
Dr. Alfred Certosimo, chair of the general practice department, praises Dishman's unpretentious manner. "He's able to talk to students on their level. He doesn't try to use his 30-plus years' experience to talk down to them. He finds something good to point out, even in a performance that may be less than the student's best."
Students remain in touch with wedding invitations, birth announcements and holiday cards. Dishman also is a fly fisherman; sometimes former students join him in angling.
"This remains very rewarding," he says. "I tell them, ‘Let me know if you have issues when you get out there.' And they do." —Harry Kollatz Jr.
Best Pro-Bono Dentist: Dr. Roger Wood, Wood, Dunlevy, Lombardozzi and Eddleton
Roger Wood's father worked at the Portsmouth, Va., naval yards as a scrap-materials sorter. This tough outdoor labor on winter days required several shirts and pants, not just for warmth but also for padding against sharp edges. Wood decided early on that he wanted an inside job.
At about age 6, he visited a children's dentist. It was a rainy day, and the dentist could seat two patients. He went from chair to chair, and he whistled and sang while he worked. "I looked out at the rain, listening to him whistle, and I thought, ‘I could do this.' "
Nobody in the family had graduated from college. "Seemed pie in the sky really, and dental school so far off," he says.
By the time he entered the Medical College of Virginia dental program, he was a veteran, married, and he and his wife, Monette, had a child. His interest in pediatric dentistry first sent him to the University of Indiana, then to teaching at MCV.
He was appointed to the Virginia State Board of Dentistry. While in this position, he saw many children of families without means who needed dental care.
"It's not the child's fault that he's in pain," Wood says. "So, I just started working on them and [did] not charge."
Wood worked at the outset with the Virginia Dental Association's Missions of Mercy project in underserved communities. That program has grown and demand increased.
"But there's a huge amount of need right there in Richmond," he says. Parents have wept in front of him when they learned he'd provide free services for their child. "Their kid's been up all night crying with an abscessed tooth, and they don't know what to do," he says. Wood cannot estimate how many young patients he's treated. "Oh, lots," he says. "And there are so many more." —Harry Kollatz Jr.