The Dentist’s Vision

Today’s New York Times Sunday Review included an essay:  “Wanted: Worldly Philosophers” (Nov. 6).  The article at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/opinion/sunday/worldly-philosophers-wanted.html?ref=opinion quotes the great economist John Maynard Keynes that “economists should become more like dentists: modest people who look at a small part of the body but remove a lot of pain.”

But this vision of the dentist is as outdated as the “old” Keynes approach to economics.  Dentistry today also recognizes – like economics – that a piece is a part of a larger whole.  So the DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree has been replaced by the DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree in many dental schools.  And dentists are trained to examine the interactions between systemic and dental diseases.  We take a complete medical history and review drug interactions and effect of disease on the oral cavity.  We recognize the correlation of periodontal disease and heart disease, of bisphosphonates and oral surgery, of dental infections and diabetes and we examine for early signs of oral cancer and other pathologies.

The writer goes on to discuss the downsides of looking at economics as a “dentist” would – “the loss of any vision about what the economic system should look like.”   But we in the dental profession today also recognize the downside of looking at things the way a dentist of Keynes’ era would have.  The “modest” dentist of the past is obsolete because today we are an integral part of a holistic medical approach.

The accompanying cartoon of a dentist in long white coat extracting a tooth is as outdated as the “old” Keynesian approach to economics.  I wrote a Letter to the Editor with the above comments.  I wonder if it will get published with so many letters received each day at the newspaper.

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