Shaping the Dentist of the Future
To better serve this next generation of dentists, we have refined and elevated our curriculum. It now is organized around a collection of “threads” that encompass the core competencies of general dentistry. These threads not only will inform first- and second-year instruction, but also link to our new system of third-year clerkships and our new fourth-year general practice model designed to duplicate the real world of private practice. Our new curriculum will shape the Dentist of the Future into an effective advocate for 21st-century patients while also keeping the university at the forefront of dental education. This is an exciting time to be part of our great School of Dentistry!
Our individual curricular threads are defined below:
Dentists no longer can focus solely on “drill and fill.” A complete understanding of human biology will be essential for the Dentist of the Future. With increasing frequency, dental professionals will become part of multi-specialty teams that provide comprehensive care to patients. As dentists become more like dental physicians, they need to possess scientific knowledge of the entire body and the diseases that afflict it. This thread will start by giving students a solid grounding in biomedical science. As students progress, they will apply the principles they have learned to the care of actual patients. As diseases become more complex and science advances in response, we will update what we teach in order to reflect this new knowledge.
The performance of hard and soft tissue surgery is fundamental to the practice of dentistry today and will remain a cornerstone for the Dentist of the Future. Providing high-quality training in these skills is a paramount responsibility we have to our students. Our surgical thread will start with study in the basic sciences and relating those concepts to real clinical cases. In the second year, students will learn surgical principles of tooth preparation in the laboratory. Hard and soft tissue surgery is introduced in the third-year clerkship under the auspices of oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Students will perform basic dental surgery in both the third and fourth years. Fourth-year students will perform hard and soft tissue surgery daily as they treat patients in the general practice clinic.
This multi-faceted thread includes instruction in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of a variety of conditions that impact oral health as well as the medical management of oral diseases. As diseases become more complex, the Dentist of the Future will need to master these skills to recommend effective prevention measures and make high-quality treatment decisions. Dentists are the health care professionals most knowledgeable in all aspects of oral medicine, including the diagnosis and management of chronic orofacial pain, oral mucosal disease, salivary and chemosensory disorders. These conditions afflict more than 50 million Americans but currently are under-diagnosed or mismanaged. This thread will ensure our students, as dental professionals, will be able to integrate advances in medical knowledge into the comprehensive care of their patients.
The dental profession has changed over time from mostly solo practitioners to small group and other unique forms of practice. Dentistry also has become more integrated within the overall health care system, such as community health clinics. The practice management thread will train the Dentist of the Future to deliver quality care in all practice settings, and to negotiate successfully the competing demands of being both a practitioner and business owner. We will train students in applicable principles of business and finance – including debt management and compliance – that are fundamentals in running a successful dental practice. We also will emphasize technological skills that support a practice effectively,such time management, recordkeeping, tracking treatment outcomes and patient communications. Strong practice-management skills are critical to delivering care in a holistic and professional manner.
The Dentist of the Future will work proactively with patients to prevent disease and maintain good oral and overall health. An ability to communicate effectively with patients and the community at large is key to meeting that obligation. Dental education traditionally has focused primarily on dental procedures without always placing them in the larger context of cause of disease, dentist-patient relationships, or community trust in the dental profession. This thread will begin by teaching students to be active and empathetic listeners. It also will provide instruction on behavior-change strategies that improve oral and overall health, such as tobacco dependence education. As students progress, they will have opportunities to demonstrate sophisticated and complex interactions with patients, which faculty, peers and patients will evaluate at every step.
The Dentist of the Future will need to provide high-quality patient care that integrates compassion and ethics. In the past, dental students did not take classes on ethics and the law until the end of their dental school experience. Since practicing in an ethical and legal manner is critical to patient care, we will weave the ideals of ethics and professionalism into the fabric of the dental school curriculum from day one. Before entering the clinics, students will be expected to know the ADA’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct, as well as laws related to the practice of dentistry. As their education progresses, they will be able to respond to the types of complex ethical and legal scenarios they likely are to encounter in practice.
Dentists can find it difficult to balance their busy practice with their desire to stay up-to-date on the latest in scientific knowledge and technological advancements. Our critical thinking thread will give the Dentist of the Future the skills to practice evidence-based dental care and become lifelong independent learners within this rapid and emerging environment. Beginning students will be taught to ask focused questions and search for the best evidence available on basic clinical problems. As their education progresses, students will learn to critically analyze assumptions and biases from studies and industry claims, apply their findings, and integrate their knowledge and values to their own professional practice. The emphasis on critical thinking will ensure that our students will be effective problem-solvers.
The UW School of Dentistry promotes access to oral health care for all. For the dental profession to provide equitable oral health services, the Dentist of the Future must value human difference and diversity. Our new curriculum will engage students with concepts of public health, emphasizing care to diverse populations. For example, coursework will address culturally appropriate care and a clinical immersion in nursing homes. Clinical students also will work with patients with disabilities and mental health conditions. Patients expect to be treated respectfully regardless of background, ability or condition. This thread will prepare our students to meet those expectations so that all patients may be treated with the dignity they deserve.
The Dentist of the Future must be trained in many specialties of the profession, including operative dentistry, prosthodontics, endodontics, periodontics, orthodontics and pediatric dentistry. This thread builds upon our school’s long tradition of outstanding clinical training by keeping the best of the past and embracing the possibilities of the future to include digital dentistry, microsurgical techniques, and the latest biomaterials for child and adult restorations. Students will progress from training in the lab to patient care in the clinics, using a consistent approach at all levels. In addition to on-campus instruction from our faculty, students will have opportunities to train with our affiliates in dental clinics in Washington, Montana and Alaska. These rotations will expose students to a diversity of cases while working at a pace comparable to private practice.