Volume 73, Number 40 | February 04 - 10, 2004

Village orthodontist braces for response to bioterrorism

By Elyse Bloom and Ami Finkelthal

“When it comes to braces,” says Dr. Dianne Rekow, an orthodontist with the N.Y.U. Dental Faculty Practice in the Village, “my patients tell me, ‘Put me at ease, and give me quick and painless results.’”

“I’ll make your treatment relatively pain-free,’ I reply, ‘but since the speed at which teeth move varies with individual physiology, if we try to move teeth too fast, we may actually slow things down. But we can be efficient, and emerging techniques may help us to further improve efficiency. For example, imagine a brace with a tiny built-in motor that makes it possible to align teeth more effectively than today’s braces do. Or picture implanting genetically-engineered bone cells in a person’s jaw to correct a bad bite from developing in the first place,” says Rekow, who is also a professor at the N.Y.U. College of Dentistry.

Rekow balances her Village orthodontics practice with her responsibilities at the N.Y.U. College of Dentistry, where she trains future orthodontists and conducts research to improve dental materials and techniques.

However, after her last patient has departed and dusk settles over nearby Astor Pl. and theatergoers crowd the lobby of the Public Theater across the street from her office, Rekow sometimes turns to another, very different challenge: Preparing dentists and other healthcare providers to help in the event of a bioterrorist attack.

As chairperson of the Bioterrerorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force at the N.Y.U. College of Dentistry, she is in charge of devising a plan to improve ways in which healthcare institutions, public health officials, local law enforcement and the federal government share information in order to enable rapid early detection of and response to a biological attack.

“Dentists are trained to deal with emergencies, and were involved in 9/11 rescue and identification efforts, so it’s only natural that we should participate in a response to catastrophic threats,” she says. “There are over 110,000 dental offices in the United States that can be used as trauma centers. Each year 63 percent of Americans visit a dentist. Dentists maintain a wonderful network of convenient, modern offices that are virtual miniature hospitals, and since almost every dental office has an Internet connection, many could be hooked into a national system to rapidly track suspicious symptoms of a biological attack and thus provide an early warning system of disease outbreak.

“But that’s not all dentists could do,” she continues. “They understand how to treat certain kinds of injuries and how to administer drugs, control infections, perform C.P.R. and take X-rays. In times of great national need, and with appropriate legislation and training, dentists could be utilized for many of these critical tasks. Indeed, in the military, dentists can serve as medics on the battlefield.

“So when patients express concerns about terrorism, I tell them about our plans to protect the public,” Rekow says. “And I reassure them that good information is their best defense against terrorism — and terror.”

She pauses and adds, “A little bit of conversation can go a long way to alleviate concerns about things other than braces.”


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