The Challenge for Dental Schools: Keeping Up with the Evolution of Technology
Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, MS
In 2009, a most challenging task for dental schools is the introduction of new science and technology into dental school curricula. This challenge, however, is not a recent phenomenon and not peculiar to the new year. In the July/August 2008 issue, this column examined this phenomenon and reported that new scientific discoveries, equipment, and products entered dental education only after they were introduced and accepted into dental practice. For example, although x-rays were discovered in 1895, it was not until 1913, after the availability of the first commercial dental x-ray units and x-rays had become a central diagnostic tool, that dental radiography was included into the teachings of dental educational institutions. Before 1913, not a single dental school in the United States taught dental radiography.
In 2009, our profession is faced with a situation similar to that in 1913. The advances in computer science, information processing, and materials science have led to an evolution in the traditional technologies that are in use in today’s dental practice. The introduction of optical impression, cone-beam radiography, composites, and software for patient management are all examples of this evolution. The products of this evolution are beginning to be seen in dental practice but, as predicted, are not commonplace in dental school clinics.
One reason for the lag is the cost associated with the acquisition of the new equipment and products. Another is the cost associated with training the dental school faculty in their use. And still another is the time and effort required to develop protocols and teaching methods to ensure that these new products and technologies can be used by dental students with minimal competency in all things dental. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is no time in a curriculum burdened with the responsibility of teaching an increasing amount of bioscience and the techniques and procedures considered irreplaceable in a dental practice. Put another way, in 2009, it would be naïve to try to incorporate new courses, programs, or additional material into the dental curriculum because the dental school curriculum is already overcrowded and any new material would have to displace other important material. Clearly, if new material is to be included, an alternative approach is needed.
The Biodontics® Approach Helps Dental Schools Meet the Challenge
The Biodontics Approach is an alternative format for dental school lectures that uses dental products and equipment to teach both basic science and clinical dentistry. By using an alternative format, information about new technology can be incorporated into the curriculum without any increase in the number of curriculum hours or the displacement of any existing curriculum content. This alternative approach is based on observations made during a 4-year experimental teaching program sponsored by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The Biodontics Approach builds on the existing basic science and clinical dentistry courses already in the curriculum and encourages the basic science faculty to include new diagnostic and therapeutic products and technologies as examples of the applicability of the basic science information. For example, in lectures on saliva, it is suggested that innovative technologies and products that use saliva for the detection of diseases, such as oral cancer, be introduced. These new diagnostic technologies use “chip” instrumentation that emerged from biotech research. Including these innovation biotechnologies in the lecture makes molecular biology relevant.
In addition to seeking the cooperation of basic science faculty, the Biodontics Approach seeks to include clinical dental faculty into the program. The clinical faculty members are asked to incorporate new equipment and products into the teaching of clinical procedures. An example is computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM), a technology that is changing the way dentists repair and replace damaged and lost teeth. The new technology does not change what dentists do. Rather it changes how they do it. Students still need to know dental morphology, how to take dental impressions, and how to make decisions relative to dental fabrications. What needs to be introduced to students is the knowledge that these three topics, when driven by the appropriate software included in CAD/CAM technology, can help the dentist be more productive and provide better service for patients. Thus, regardless of whether or not the dental school has CAD/CAM technology, including some of this information would be appropriate in any lecture on prosthetics.
Adopting the Biodontic Approach: The Technology Quotient™
To introduce the Biodontic Approach, a multistep program has been developed. This program includes seminars on the new diagnostic and therapeutic technologies with the goal of finding a match between a lecture and a technology.
To follow the outcome of the effort to link lectures with technologies, a new metric has been developed. Called the Technology Quotient, or TQ, this metric was introduced to ascertain the knowledge and experience of the dental school faculty, or any group for that matter, with diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. The availability of a TQ provides, for the first time, a metric to measure the progress of individuals in the acquisition of knowledge of technologies.
Dr. Rossomando is the founder and director of the Biodontics® program at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine.
To assist in improving the Technology Quotient of your faculty, your office staff, or your company’s sales force, a brochure titled “5-Steps to Improve Your Technology Quotient™” has been prepared. To receive a free copy, e-mail Dr. Edward F. Rossomando at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide an address suitable for receiving US mail packages.
About the Author
Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, MS
Professor and Director
Center for Research and Education in Technology Evaluation
University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine