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August 31, 1997

R.I. dentists offer
(painless) Web site

By Timothy C. Barmann

If you have a tooth removed at the dentist, are you allowed to keep it?

There are probably few places you'll find the answer to that question, and the Rhode Island Dental Association's Web site is one of them.

The site (http://www.ridental.com) has been up since May, and is the work of Dr. Marty Nager, a periodontist who has a practice in Narragansett and Warwick.

Nager is one of about 500 members of the dental association, which represents more than 90 percent of the state's dentists. It was his initiative to get the site up and running. "I'm just the one who had enough energy to do this," he said.

RIDA's site seems to cater mostly to other dentists, but does have information useful to dental patients.

Under a section called Legislative Issues and Consumer Information, there is a summary of state laws passed this year, known as the Zainyeh Bill, which makes it easier to compare health plans.

There's also a chart on dental health that offers the probable causes and treatments for various oral maladies. Among them: What should you do for a toothache? "Rinse mouth often with vanilla extract to soothe discomfort," the chart says.

There is a small map of Rhode Island that lets you click on certain areas to help you find a dentist in eight different parts of the state. A few dentists are linked from the lists to their own Web sites.

The RIDA site is also linked to the Web site of its parent organization, the American Dental Association, which has a wealth of consumer-oriented dental information.

Nager has spent time looking through the ADA site and has provided several links that lead right to a dozen or so topics.

You can read where the ADA weighs in on the debate over whether the mercury in silver fillings poses any health risks (the ADA says no).

And yes, you can keep that tooth the dentist pulls. That practice was called into question after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidelines for handling and disposing of medical waste, including extracted teeth. But OSHA has since cleared up the tooth question. "OSHA has not banned the tooth fairy; dentists can give children their extracted teeth," said OSHA chief Joseph Dear, according to the ADA site.

House shopping on-line

The dentists aren't the only professional group on-line.

The Association of Rhode Island Realtors has updated and renamed its Web site. It's now called Rhode Island Living (http://www.riliving.com).

The site offers information about mortgages, including what it means to prequalify for a loan and what happens if you miss a mortgage payment. There's also a handy mortgage calculator.

But home buyers and sellers should keep in mind that the site's real function is to promote the interests of the Realtors association. There are some subtle and not-so-subtle signs of that.

For example, a discussion of renting versus buying isn't much of a discussion. It promotes buying over renting, but neglects to point out that in some cases, renting is a better alternative.

Also, under a heading for area mortgage lenders, only one is listed. Noticeably absent are the dozen or so other banks and mortgage companies that appear in the real estate section of the Sunday paper. The sole lender that is listed, by the way, is also one of the site's sponsors.

There is useful information here, including some basic facts about Rhode Island schools and colleges, and municipal tax rates.

For home buyers, the site provides a good way to view the houses that are listed with the statewide Multiple Listings Services, or MLS.

The Rhode Island Living site actually sends you off to another site, called Cyberhomes, to view listings of homes for sale. Cyberhomes, a national on-line real estate search service, is where the data for all the homes is stored, but you wouldn't know you've actually left the Rhode Island Living site because your screen still shows a directory to the Rhode Island site on the left side.

Cyberhomes has a "radius search" feature that lets you find homes for sale that meet certain criteria and are within a certain radius from a particular city, address or zip code.

Once you have a list of homes, you can request a map that shows the general location of the homes.

Of course not all homes for sale appear here. You won't see homes that are being sold by their owners.

Student financial aid

The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, a nonprofit agency in Warwick that provides student loans, lets students and parents apply for loans through its Web site (http://www.risla.com/).

RISLA's site is very basic. The home page provides a set of links to information about RISLA, its services and other student-loan sites.

Among the information is an explanation of the various student loans. There's also a list of scholarship and grant sources, including contact information.

The on-line loan applications that RISLA directs Web users to are actually handled by UNIPAC Service Corp., a Colorado-based national student-loan servicer.

The site is certainly worth a stop for any Rhode Islander investigating how to pay for college.

`The Power of Words'

Aspiring and experienced writers alike will appreciate a site by several reporters and editors at the Journal-Bulletin called "The Power of Words" (http://www.projo.com/words/main.htm).

It includes writing tips and suggestions that are updated weekly.

The site is the work of the newspaper's writing committee, which for years has sponsored events and seminars to help raise the art of storytelling among the newspaper staffers. The Web site shares some of the committee's work that had been accessible only to Journal-Bulletin employees.

Among the missions of the writing committee is to "collect, organize and publicize the wealth of material on writing and storytelling that the committee has collected over the years, and to disseminate it as widely as possible."

One of the most recent postings are notes from a talk given by Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes, who spoke to newspaper staffers during a visit to Providence last month.

The Power of Words site is also of interest to the average reader of the newspaper, as it gives some insight into the people behind the bylines.

For example, a section of tips by reporters includes one by sports writer Bill Parrillo, who explains why he does a self-evaluation of his work.

"About every six months," he writes, "I'll collect all my columns and go off in a little room for a day or two and read what I've done -- to see if I repeat a lot of phrases, if I overuse quotations ... I also pick out what I like. It's important to get some positive reinforcement, to the point where I'll say, `Hey, that isn't bad -- that's about the best I'll get.' "

The site also promotes a book published periodically by the newspaper that gives behind-the-scenes accounts by reporters of how some of the best stories that have appeared in the Journal-Bulletin were reported and written.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.