Monday, March 26, 2007


No Dentist Left Behind

My sister and fellow teacher, Molly, forwarded this to me over the weekend.

No Dentist Left Behind

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He
uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've
got all my teeth.

When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about
the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.

"Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of
dentists with their young patients?" I said.

"No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"

"It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities
each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a
dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below
average, and unsatisfactory.. That way parents will know which are the best
dentists. The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get
better," I said. "Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses
to practice."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try
to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is
practicing good dentistry."

"Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all
work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can't
control? For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage
of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper
middle-class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring
their children to see me until there is some kind of
problem, and I don't get to do much preventive work. Also, many of the
parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age,
unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship
between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well
water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how
much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. "I can't believe that you,
my dentist, would be so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you
needn't fear a little accountability."

"I am not being defensive!" he said. "My best patients are as good as
anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is
going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose
to work where I am needed most."

"Don't' get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was
clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his
teeth. "Try furious! In a system like this, I will end up being rated
average, below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see
these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my
ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the
most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top
of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and
other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse-making and
stonewalling won't improve dental health'... I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I

"What's the DOC?" he asked.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly
lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved"

"Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it,"
he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you
measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated, expensive and time- consuming," I said. "Cavities
are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an
absolute measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This
can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he asked.

If you receive a poor rating, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent
to help straighten you out," I said brightly.

"You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to
show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have
probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!"

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and
teachers on an average score made on a test of children's progress with no
regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that.
Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. "I'm going to write my
representatives and senators," he said. "I'll use the school analogy. Surely
they will see the point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger
that I, a teacher, see in the mirror so often lately.

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