Getting on e-mail lists

I hope that you have had time to explore the world of discussion groups and are sharing information and opinions with your peers. Computers have removed barriers that dentistry, as a cottage-type industry, has constructed over the years. We live and practice in our own little confined space. The world of the Internet has torn down these walls. We now can communicate with each other freely in a timely manner. We are no longer alone.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS

I hope that you have had time to explore the world of discussion groups and are sharing information and opinions with your peers. Computers have removed barriers that dentistry, as a cottage-type industry, has constructed over the years. We live and practice in our own little confined space. The world of the Internet has torn down these walls. We now can communicate with each other freely in a timely manner. We are no longer alone.

In this issue, I will discuss what I consider to be the second most useful aspect of the Internet: research. The number and, to some extent, the complexity of Internet search engines is daunting. Search engines are locations on the Internet that will hunt through the millions of web pages or search the billions of postings in newsgroups to find a desired topic. Searching the Web is more an art than a science. A rule of thumb to remember is the more specific your search, the better your results.

Different types of searches can be made for topics (which can be for places, things or ideas), companies or people.

Once you have logged onto the Internet, you need to go to a search engine site. You have many to choose from. The more familiar you are with a site and how to use it, the better you will become at finding results.

Once you have logged onto a search engine site, you will find an area where a subject should be entered. Type your search words in lowercase. Type proper names with a single capital letter. Never type any word in all capital letters. In order to narrow your search more quickly, try to use special characters and modifiers. Some of the more useful ones are:

- Quotation Marks. Placing words within quotation marks creates a phrase. It will return a match only when the engine finds the exact word sequence. Example: "early Egyptian history."

- Plus: Adding a plus sign (+) directly in front of a word requires that the word be included in all search results. Example: laurel + hardy.

- Minus: Adding a minus sign (-) directly in front of a word indicates that the word should not be found in search results. Example: python - monty.

- Asterisk: An asterisk (*) is a wild card. It must be placed on the right-hand side of a word or embedded within a word with at least three characters to the left. Use an asterisk to find various spellings or related words. Example: quilt* will return matches of quilt, quilts, quilter or quilting.

- And: Search results must contain all words joined by the "and" statement. Example: classical and music.

- Or: Search results must contain at least one of the words joined by the "or" statement. Example: plant or tree.

- And Not: Search results cannot contain the word that follows the "and not" statement. Example: peanut and not butter will find sites about the nut but will eliminate sites about the spread.

- Parentheses: Use parentheses to build complex search queries that incorporate other special words and characters. Example: cape and (cod or hatteras) lists sites about either vacation destination.

- Capitalization: Searches typed in all lowercase letters will match for either uppercase or lowercase letters. Uppercase letters in a search word will match only to uppercase letters. Generally, it is better to use lowercase letters in your search phrases.

What can you do with search sites? The information you can gather is practically limitless. For example, you have just visited your personal physician for your annual physical. She feels that your blood pressure is a little elevated. She places you on a small dose of an ACE inhibitor.

You can now go home or to your office, access the Internet, and run searches for information on hypertension, ACE inhibitors and on the specific medication you have been given. Quickly, you will immediately be able to find a wealth of information on these subjects that will help you understand your newly found physical problem. You now feel that a little stress relief is in order. You become very interested in developing a new hobby: spinning pots. On the Internet, you will be able to find "how-to" articles, places to purchase supplies and courses you can take to learn the techniques.

You should be fascinated with your newly found ability to gather knowledge. In developing relationships with your patients, it is always useful to find out their hobbies and interests. You will now be able to access the Internet with them or gather information for them.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry Magazine and spokesperson and critical-issue-response-team chairperson for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. He can be reached at jdteeth@inlink.com or by phone, (314) 567-5612; or fax: (314) 567-9047.

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