What's up with ADA's health screenings?

March 21, 2012

Dr. Daniel M. Meyer was not happy to see the ADA cancel this year’s Health Screening Program (HSP) as well as leave it’s future unclear heading in to the recently completed annual session in Orlando.

Dr. Daniel M. Meyer was not happy to see the ADA cancel this year’s Health Screening Program (HSP) as well as leave it’s future unclear heading in to the recently completed annual session in Orlando.

According to Dr. Meyer, the long-time HSP has not only helped a large number of member dentists seek needed health treatments, but the research that has come from the program the past four decades has changed for the better the way clinicians practice dentistry.

“Actually I feel very strongly about this program,” said Dr. Meyer, ADA Senior Vice President of Science/Professional Affairs. “The program dates back over 40 years ago and was intended to look at the occupational risks of dentists through the practice of dentistry. Back then when dentists were converting from stand-up dentistry to sit-down dentistry and the highspeed drill was being introduced there were obviously concerns about back problems, orthopedic problems, foot problems, eye problems and hearing problems.”

So each year, beginning in the mid 1960s, the ADA has offered health screenings free of charge to members who attend the annual session. A medical clinic, manned primarily by volunteers, would be set up to evaluate dentists and basically give them A health screening physical. Since its inception, it evolved drastically and has addressed a host of other issues including major concerns in the 1980s about dentists’ risks of Hepatitis B and HIV.

“This program evolved into actually creating policies that were not only intended to protect the healthcare providers and team, but also the patients that they were treating,” he said. “In order to make the dental office a safer place, we’ve also looked over the years at things like blood borne pathogens, and mercury issues related to dental amalgam.” This research helped lay the groundwork for mercury hygiene procedures, best management practices for dental amalgam, infection control standards, latex hypersensitivity concerns and certainly reducing the occupational risk to a whole host of other issues,” Dr. Meyer said.

“The program has been, I think, one of the most important clinical research projects that the profession has had,” he said. “And if it weren’t for the Health Screening Program we wouldn’t be practicing dentistry the way that we are today.”

But according to the ADA News, in response to a tax and financial report, the ADA Foundation Board of Directors voted in July to cancel the HSP for this year’s annual session in Orlando. The $250,000 needed to cover the program wasn’t in the ADA budget, and it was decided that the ADA Board would receive suggestions from the Council on Scientific Affairs, the Council on ADA Sessions and others regarding the resumption of the HSP in 2011 as an ADA program, which would “allow a new emphasis on the program's benefit to members as well as its continuing value as a leading source of research on the health and safety of the dental team," according to the August issue of ADA News.? The ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs and the ADA’s Council on Annual Sessions submitted a report to the 2010 House of Delegates requesting ADA funding of the 2011 health screening program. The House of Delegates approved the request during its meeting at the annual session in Orlando earlier in October.

Dr. Meyer emphasizes that the benefits that have come so far from the program has helped dentists, patients and the general public in numerous fashions already.

“Again, for the amount that has been invested in this program, there’s a wealth of information. We’ve got the largest database on the health of the dental team in the practice of dentistry,” he said. “The most important aspect of this is from a public health point of view-we’ve been able to either arrest or minimize disease transmission, occupational risks and actually eradicate some risks as being part of the dental office setting.”

Dr. Meyer said there has been some confusion over the years as to whether the HSP was a research tool or a member benefit, or a combination of both. The hope was that this was to be clarified in Orlando and that the findings could help determine how best to go forward.

“We went through different re-assessments to re-tool the program and look at the program in different ways,” Dr. Meyer said. “That’s basically why at this time we decided to at least postpone the program this year. As the ADA and the ADA Foundation are looking at the respective programs, this was a time to give pause, to say ‘What’s the best way to address this? Do we address this as a Member Benefit or do we address this as a research tool through the ADA Foundation, or to combine those two to make it both a member benefit and a research tool or is it time to discontinue the program.’ “