The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) news documentary program, Frontline, aired a segment titled "Dollars & Dentists" last night; and the American Dental Association (ADA) is unhappy with what it considers unbalanced emphasis on dental therapists with minimal training extracting teeth and removing soft tissue after drilling through a tooth. The ADA was also concerned that too much time spent on the topic of Medicaid fraud focussed on a few bad apples, ignoring thousands of dedicated dental professionals who are the strongest fiber in the oral health care safety net. The ADA's experience is not uncommon. Media are not well versed in reporting health issues. The AIDS epidemic was a textbook example of journalism's limited understanding of basic science and the concept of prevention. While we can understand the need for a catchy sexy title, health reporting, particularly by PBS needs to evolve to truly inform and instruct.
The webpage dedicated to the program is another matter entirely. The content is very comprehensive and balanced. Prevention gets a good airing; the disturbing trend of seeking care for unmet oral health needs in hospital emergency departments is presented; and the potentially fatal outcomes resulting from poor access to dental care are described by tragic human stories.
Multiple channels are now seen as vehicles to get a message to the public with segmentation in mind: You want more detail, read the webpage. Since this may be the trend in health reporting, it may be time to work more diligently at framing the oral health crisis differently for journalists and policymakers so poor access to oral health care is not dismissed as a trivial health concern.
Selected articles from the Dollars & Dentists website:
When the dentist won't see youby Sarah Childress
More Americans visiting ER for dental care by Azmat Kahn
Tragic results when dental care is out of reach by Gretche Gavett