I realize that advertising is "unethical" among dentists as among physicians. Humbug and imposition are supposed to go inevitably with self-advertising by the methods used in selling shoes or automobiles. Therefore such advertising is prohibited. But what seems to be forgotten in this definition of ethics is that the need and the opportunity for dental care must be advertised in some way, if we are ever to control diseases and evils due to bad teeth. The rich that one dentist can help are able to pay for his good taste, his neat attendants, his automobile, his club dues, his vacations at fashionable resorts, his hours without work, his standard of living. All of these things advertise him, just as hospital appointments and social position may and do advertise successful physicians. The patients of moderate means that one dentist can treat cannot afford to pay for rent, time disengaged, and indirect advertising. Either they must have free treatment, must go without treatment, or must go to a dental parlor where dental needs are organized so that a very large number will contribute to rent and display. It is out of the question to have both dentists and patients so distributed and prices so adjusted that dentists can make a good living by charging what the patient can afford, and at the same time admit of every patient being properly treated when necessary. Judging from every other branch of work, the solution of the problem lies partly in free care for those who can pay nothing or very little, and partly in cooperative treatment through the heretofore objectionable dental parlors. If instead of inveighing against advertisers, honorable and capable dentists worked through dental and medical societies to secure adequate public supervision of dental practice, more progress would be made against dental malpractice.
Dental clinics will quickly follow the publication of facts that schools should gather. In some places these should be separate; but at first the best thing is to make every hospital, every children's home, every settlement a clinic, and every school an examining center. A skilled dentist informs me: "The demand that will follow examination of school children's teeth will make it profitable for young dentists to adopt a cooperative scheme, where several young men hire a parlor in a cheap district, and, under the supervision of some experienced dentist, give good advice at reasonable rates. This is the best antidote to the dental parlor which exploits the public so shamelessly." Bellevue Hospital in New York is the first general hospital to establish regular dental examination; others will undoubtedly soon follow.
Dental education for profit rather than for instruction and for health has been the rule. Even where universities have put in dental courses, they have demanded a net profit from tuition. Instead of protecting society against men incapable of caring for teeth, the schools have marketed certificates to as large numbers as slowly enlightened self-interest would permit. Much progress has been made toward uniform standards of admission and graduation, but dental colleges sadly need the light and the inspiration of school facts about teeth.
Of fourteen dental journals in America, only one has the advancement of dental science as its first reason for existence. Thirteen are trade journals. Not one of these would print articles proving that the supplies advertised by their backers were inimical to dental hygiene. Many dental colleges still retain on their faculties agents or editors in the pay of supply houses, Harvard's new dental school being a notable exception. This trade motive tolerates and encourages the disreputable practices of existing dental parlors. Largely because of this prostitution of the dental profession, patients generally neglect the repairing and cleansing of the teeth and the sterilizing of the mouth from which germs are carried to all parts of the body. Dental journalism for the sale of supplies cannot outlive the dentist's reading of the school's index.
Many dentists will say that they must learn dentistry before they learn the economics and sociology of clean teeth. Being a young profession, it is natural that dentistry should first devote itself to learning its own mechanics,—the tricks of the trade—how to fill teeth. But the fact that it took the medical profession centuries to begin to feel responsibility for community health is no reason why the social sense of the dentist should be dormant for centuries or decades. We need training and exercise to determine what kind of filling will be most comfortable and most serviceable; whether the pulp of the teeth needs treating or removing before the filling is inserted; whether it is worth while to fill a deciduous or baby tooth. Sociology will never take the place of dental technic. The few dentists who have studied the social significance and social responsibility of their profession declare, however, that careless workmanship and indifferent education of patients continue chiefly because dentists themselves do not see the community's interest in dental hygiene. The school can socialize or humanize the dental profession if teachers themselves possess the social sense and make known the facts about the need for dental care among school children.