By Nicole Fauteux
If you ask Dr. Paul L. Benjamin how he became so heavily involved in practice-based research, he’ll tell you his involvement goes back to a question that was planted in his head as a predoctoral student at the University of Florida: Why do you do what you do?
Despite 30 years in private practice and the distinction of having earned the Academy of General Dentistry’s highest honor (Mastership), Dr. Benjamin insists he is still asking questions. He even started a study group in his office some years back. As often as not, he recalls, there were seven dentists in attendance with five different answers to whatever question was before them.
“Why do we dentists have so many different opinions?” he wanted to know. “Why don’t we think scientifically? That’s always been in the back of my mind.”
When he heard Dr. Gregg H. Gilbert and Dr. Ivar A. Mjör talk about the creation of a dental practice-based research network in 2005, the idea resonated deeply. In a conversation following their presentation, Dr. Benjamin was asked to serve as a member of the new network’s Executive Committee, an opportunity he eagerly embraced.
A few years later, having learned a great deal about research in the interim, he participated in one of the network’s clinical research studies, which looked at why dentists put a restoration on a tooth for the first time. Among other findings, the study revealed that dentists in certain regions and certain types of practices were more prone than other dentists to treat teeth surgically. Dr. Benjamin learned that dentists in larger practices that trained dentists in risk assessment and had a protocol in place were more likely to treat teeth medically when possible.
“For someone like myself,” Dr. Benjamin explains, “it changed the way I practiced dentistry. It made me think, I don’t have to pick up the handpiece quite as fast as I used to. There are other ways of treating a tooth. I would never have gone down that road if it wasn't for a study like this.”
In addition to taking part in network studies, Dr. Benjamin is also something of an evangelist, spreading the word about how research networks fit into evidence-based dentistry. He actively recruits the international dentists he trains at the University of Florida Hialeah Dental Center and at the Community Smiles program in Miami, with generally positive results.
“Younger dentists are computer savvy. They understand how to formulate clinical questions so they are one step ahead of the game,” he observes. Selling research network participation to the older dentists he speaks to through dental societies takes a lot more work.
“Dentists are a little nervous when they first hear about evidence-based practice,” he says, “because they think I’m going to tell them they have to practice in a certain way. I always tell the audience, it’s not just the research information. It’s not just the studies. It’s also your clinical experience and your knowledge. It’s very important to bring you, the clinician, into the mix of the evidence.”
What drives the inquisitive Dr. Benjamin to pursue this mission with such zeal is a strong belief that research networks will make dentistry a better profession and improve patient care.
“Thanks to the network, for the first time I, as a clinician, am being asked what questions are important to me. Maybe now I can finally get answers to that question of why I decide to do the procedures I do.”