Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD
Dentistry frequently is described as a cottage industry. This is because most of us are solo practitioners, working in our independently- owned offices. We answer to nobody but ourselves. But, we find it difficult sometimes not having anyone around us to bounce ideas off of when it is time to make important decisions.
Communication, by definition, is the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information through speech, signals, writing, or behavior. There is no better way to break out of the isolation of the "solo practitioner blues" than to talk with fellow dentists, hygienists, assistants, lab technicians, and dental manufacturers. Study groups have never been more popular, but these become limiting after awhile, because the roster stays constant.
The Internet is an excellent tool to use when you want to talk with others in our profession. You can utilize email, read and leave postings on bulletin board areas, or exchange ideas in "chat" rooms. The most useful way to get together with other dentists and dental professionals is with discussion groups.
Discussion groups come in two forms: email lists and bulletin boards. An email list is simply a way to send an e-mail to a group of people at one time. You register with a list-server and, when you send an email to this group, it is instantly disseminated to all of the members who have signed up with this group. There are two excellent dental groups in cyberspace: the Internet Dental Forum (the IDF) (www.idf.stat.com) and GenR8t Next (www.genr8 tnext.com).
Here's how these groups work. My old panoramic unit broke down and I did not want to repair it again. I sent emails out to both groups asking the members about the panoramic units that they were using. I was looking for positives and negatives about each unit, and then I used the information I found there to purchase a new unit. This makes equipment and supply purchasing decisions a whole lot easier. This advice can move into the clinical arena as well. Can you imagine how nice it would be to take a digital photograph of a tough case, send it online to more than 1,000 dentists, and receive advice back on how to treat it before you ever pick up a handpiece? We are no longer alone in our offices! We are now connected to dentists and dental professionals around the world.
An alternative to email lists is a dental bulletin board. There are two major boards: Dental Town (www.dentaltown .com) and Gen R8Tnext (www.gen r8t next.com). These bulletin boards have numerous subject areas listed on them. You merely post a message to any area of interest and wait for others to read and respond to it. You do not receive immediate replies here. All of the discussion takes place at the bulletin board site. This saves you from receiving a lot of email, but your post may not reach as many people as with an email list and the subsequent discussion may take a week or two to get rolling.
To me, the number one use of the Internet for dentists is discussion groups. These groups are a great forum for sharing thoughts, views, and advice. It is amazing how much help you will find. You will cultivate mentors and friends from all over the world and stay in touch with them throughout your career.
Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry Magazine and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. His address on the Internet is www.dfdasmiles.com. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.