International Internet Dental Forum Visits
National Institute of Dental Health
By Robert Doty, D.D.S.
I was among the 60 or so dentists belonging to the Internet Dental Forum, IDF, worldwide, that recently visited Washington DC. This group is a subgroup of the Internet Dental Forum, a listserve (a listing of email communications). This international group of dentists communicate across the Internet about various topics centered on the practice of dentistry. The worldwide membership totals around 1,000 dentists. The group has had some face to face meetings at various larger dental conventions but this was the first planned traditional conference of just group members.
Usually the members of the group use email to ask each other questions, give answers, and in general share information across the Internet. Dentistry, by nature a cottage industry, has previously had little chance for communication, of a more informal nature, among fellow dentists. Never before has communication been possible so quickly and from such a wide variety of dentists from many different backgrounds. I have used the knowledge of fellow members to gain helpful information on various new materials and techniques ranging from, which digital x-ray was the best, to other members experience placing implants on patients with dry mouth syndrome.
The day we all visited the National Institute of Dental Research and the National Library of Medicine was particularly interesting. The staff of the NIDR were helpful and anxious to share their knowledge with all the visiting dentists. Apparently, they have very few visits from practicing dentists and they were more than willing to explain their projects and experiments to us. I was particularly interested in their research into bone and connective tissue growth.
They have isolate particular cells present in connective tissue that can change into various other building cells depending on the chemical mediators present in their environment. They hope to expand on this knowledge to actually grow various types of replacement tissues to help in repairing defects of various types we encounter in our patients bones etc. By understanding how various proteins act as stimulants for various tissue growth they can do gene maps and perhaps discover what defective genes cause various congenital diseases and possibly prevent them before they manifest themselves. The basic research they are doing in this area will, without a doubt, lead to a host of "cures" for various diseases.
Another exciting area of research involved using the salivary glands. Altered salivary gland cells with altered genetic material, splices, can produce proteins. The splices could be specific for proteins that the patient is otherwise deficient such as insulin, thyroid hormone etc. These altered cells could be implanted back into the patient's existing salivary gland and produce the missing or deficient proteins. After implantation the patient may be able to function normally without oral or injected medication. Many other possible uses for these techniques are being developed by the labs at the NIDR.
The National Library of Medicine was also a very interesting tour. We can all be proud of the quality and extent of medical knowledge archived in this institution. Not only is this the most complete medical library in the world, but it is technologically the most sophisticated. The books, periodicals and video tapes are catalogued and available via their computer system by direct dial up and over the Internet. They are currently working on a very high tech project that has digitized the anatomy of the human body. Various software vendors are using this vast graphic digital database to formulate programs that will allow medical training in a virtual reality environment This visualization will surpass what a medical or dental student could learn even after multiple dissections of a real cadaver.
Lastly, I enjoyed meeting and talking with other dentists from around the world. At this meeting dentists were present from New Zealand and Alberta, Canada, as well as other U.S. cities. Communication among dentists has definitely been vastly improved through the technology of the Internet!