Archive for Tuesday, April 30, 1996


April 30, 1996


When Lawrence dentist J.B. Wheeler organized the Kansas Dental Assn., in 1871, it was expected that most adults would eventually lose all of their teeth.

Should they be unfortunate enough to require the services of a dentist -- as just about everyone was -- it would, in all likelihood, be a painful and unpleasant experience.

Fourteen years later, 38 of the 303 licensed dentists in Kansas were graduates of dental schools. The rest were trained on the job.

Beyond the standardization of dental training, however, the practice of dentistry itself has changed even more dramatically in the past 125 years and, almost as significantly, in the last decade.

"The bottom line is that most everybody will retire with their own teeth, whereas 50 or 100 years ago it was typical that you didn't," said Nevin Waters, an Olathe dentist and president of the Kansas Dental Assn., which will hold its annual convention Thursday through Saturday in Lawrence.

As far as Lawrence dentist Kate Blubaugh is concerned, prevention of tooth decay by adding fluoride to public water supplies was the most significant advancement for dentistry in the last 125 years.

"It's probably the single most effective dental tool that's been used, as far as affecting the masses," said Blubaugh, who has been practicing for 10 years. "It means people have better teeth."

About 950 people are expected at the convention at the Lawrence Holidome, including dentists, dental assistants and dental hygienists.

The association has about 1,200 members -- 80 percent of the state's dentists.

They have their worries -- like low reimbursement rates for services provided to recipients of Medicaid, the government health program for the poor.

But they are also encouraged by recent technological advances, like new materials for fillings, and a growing awareness of dental care.

In the last 10 years, new materials have been developed that bond to the dentin layer of a tooth, which is below the outer enamel layer.

This has allowed dentists to repair badly damaged teeth -- a cosmetic fix that also prevents tooth loss.

The materials themselves are better looking and less likely to stain than older materials. Some dentists still use silver fillings. But there are questions about the long-term health risks of using those fillings. Many patients now request plastic fillings.

"All types of fillings are probably still being used throughout the United States," Blubaugh said. "There are pros and cons to each one. More and more people are saying I'd rather have white because it looks better."

Most significantly, Blubaugh said, Americans increasingly seem to regard good dental care as a necessity rather than a luxury.

"Certainly younger people assume we're not going to lose our teeth," she said. "Dental health is becoming a priority for people, and it's reflected in their willingness to do more elective procedures, like orthodontics, and in employers willing to provide dental insurance for their employees.

"It's as much as a statement about your health as anything you do to look and appear healthy. Your smile has to be healthy too."

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