Dentists Get The Drill

Biological Weapons
Dentists have the skills, training, equipment and supplies to assist their communities in the event of a bioterror attack.

With the nation on heightened alert, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the U.S. Public Health Service (U.S.P.H.S.) are sponsoring a two-day conference, March 27-28, in Washington, D.C. Conferees will discuss how dentists -- in case a bioterror attack overwhelms community hospitals and medical personnel -- can provide victim triage, diagnosis, specific treatments, decontamination and surveillance to detect any spread of disease and other services.

Dental offices and dental schools could serve as mini hospitals in the event of a significant bioterror attack, because they contain such needed resources as sterilization equipment, air and gas lines, suction equipment, x-ray machines and instruments. These facilities can also be used to stockpile medications, supplies and equipment. But how prepared are dentists and their staffs to step into this role?

Scheduled conference speakers include Richard H. Carmona, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General; Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health; George A. Alexander, M.D., director for Medical and Public Health Security, White House Office of Homeland Security; and Rep. John Linder, (R-Ga.), from the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Dentists have historically provided forensic services, helping to identify victims of catastrophic events such as the September 11 attacks. . Services dentists could provide include:

-- cardiopulmonary resuscitation
-- starting intravenous lines
-- administering anesthetic
-- performing appropriate surgery and suturing
-- assisting in stabilizing patients
-- taking medical histories
-- collecting blood samples
-- prescribing and distributing medicine

Basic capabilities such as the early recognition of the signs and symptoms of diseases that may be used as bioterrorist weapons and preventive measures are important skills for dentists and should become a part of the curriculum of each dental school, according to a consensus report issued by the ADA last September. Practicing dentists can be trained in these skills through continuing education courses.

Dentists who volunteer to provide specialized services or have their offices used as auxiliary treatment and storage sites should obtain education, training and certification, the report concludes.