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Something to Sink Your Teeth Into

November 06, 2000|BENEDICT CAREY

The American Dental Assn.


Overview: The ADA is to dentists what the American Medical Assn. is to doctors: a large, long-standing association that has some influence on government policy and helps direct research. The ADA has gotten involved in the consumer marketplace, lending its seal of approval to products like toothpaste and mouthwash. This site is an attempt to further educate consumers about what's going on in dentistry.

What Works: The press release archive. The ADA has a strong communications staff that does a good job of informing the public about the latest in dental developments in a clear, accessible way. And unlike many arcane medical findings, dental research hits the consumer pretty quickly--in the mouth. Examples: a new trend toward more natural dental materials, such as calcium; a new system for early detection of cavities; and tips for battling bad breath. The trick to finding these stories it to click on the "News and Media" tab. The "Frequently Asked Questions" screen is also helpful, giving straightforward answers to scores of good questions, from "What causes orthodontic problems?" and "How long will treatment take?" to "What will dentures feel like?"

What Doesn't: The site is disappointingly shallow, more like a brochure you'd find in a dentist's office than a portal to one of the world's largest dental resources. Say you want to know about dental implants, for instance. You'll find a few paragraphs describing implants and telling you which patients might benefit. But there's little about risks and possible complications, and no good, clear diagrams showing you exactly what those hands in your mouth are really doing. The ADA boasts a huge dental library at its Chicago headquarters, occupying "most of one floor." But you'll have to fly to the Windy City to know what's there.


The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry


Overview: Founded in 1984, the AACD represents some 4,000 dentists, researchers and dental technicians worldwide who specialize mainly in helping people improve the appearance of their smile. This is the fastest-growing area of dentistry, and the academy's site is intended to let consumers know what's available and what's possible.

What Works: The best feature on the site is called "Ask a Specialist," in which a dentist answers a specific question from a patient. This month, for example, someone wants to know why her newly laminated front teeth are causing her gums to swell and bleed. The doctors says it's probably due to the margins between the new lamination and the gums, and he proposes a quick solution. The site also has a useful glossary, including terms you may have heard in the dentist's office, such as cosmetic contouring and veneers.

What Doesn't: The site functions more as an advertisement for cosmetic dentistry than an honest accounting of its risks and benefits. The "Ask a Specialist" feature only appears once a month, and there is no archive of previous questions. The site also posts patient testimonials like, "I had my teeth whitened just before I got married! I felt so more confident smiling in our wedding pictures, it really made a difference!" How much does whitening usually cost? What are the risks of cosmetic contouring? How do you decide if you are a good candidate for gum surgery? No good answers here.

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