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5 Ways to Make Dental School Better

Running a successful dental school has got to be one of the most challenging jobs in all of education.  Our administration is in charge of us learning the human body in great detail, training to become technically proficient with our hands, and discover the complex world of diagnosis and treatment planning.  So my hat is off to our friends in dental education.

I’ve had the privilege to not only attend dental school but also to chat with dental students from around the world.  It always amazes me how similar our experiences.  Everybody complains about that one cranky professor who should have retired a decade ago.

Our dental school curricula have evolved over the years from its early beginnings.  Here are the areas where I think we can see continued improvement:

(1) Get rid of the useless lectures and courses

My anatomy class in first year was one of the best educational experiences of my entire life.  Interestingly, when it came to dissection lab we didn’t study the arms and legs.  Instead we spent more time studying the head and neck anatomy.  This is an excellent example of carefully curating content.  There is so much relevant information to learn in a short period of time that we really can’t afford to waste it.

Many schools have some lectures and courses that are not the best use of time.  Perhaps a professor is a researcher in a particular area and so the students have to sit through twenty lectures on saliva.  Perhaps the curriculum just hasn’t been updated in a long time.  But the educational experiences of students should be periodically monitored to ensure we’re not wasting precious time.

(2) More implant education

Dental implantology is no longer that “new technology” that exists outside of a dental curriculum; it is essential.  If you graduate from a dental school without learning the basics, you have been robbed.  In this day and age, you can be successfully sued if you do not present implants as a treatment option for your patients.  So we need to make sure that every school has a solid implant course, or two.  Even if students don’t have the ability to restore an implant in clinic, they should be exposed to a hands-on lab course so become familiar with the parts and pieces.

(3) Creative ways to learn practice management

We can’t learn how to run an office by reading a Power Point slide.  Most of us just tune out the practice management courses (if we get any) because we’re so far removed from having to worry about it.  But ask any dentist who is a few years out of dental school and they’ll agree they wish they paid more attention to practice management.

Dr. Hugh Finch at SUNY Stony Brook told me a bout a great program they started that is taking an innovative approach to teaching management.  One activity involved sending students to the Greater New York Dental Meeting trade show floor and designing an imaginary new office from an imaginary budget.  Brilliant!

(4) Loan forgiveness for educators

Three observations:

1-We need fresh, young blood in dental education.

2-Some schools are in desperate need of faculty, particularly from certain specialties.

3-We graduated with an oppressive amount of student loan debt.

THEREFORE, we should find financial incentives for young faculty to come back to school to teach.  Loan forgiveness seems like an obvious one to me.

(5) More community outreach

I will never forget my experiences working at the Pine Ridge dental clinic in South Dakota as a third year student.  Extractions and dentures, dentures and extractions.  Being in a different setting from regular clinic back home has such a profound effect on education.  Best of all, a population in need of care was treated by a team of professors and students.  Everybody wins.


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