Combining Technology and Ingenuity to Educate Tomorrow's Dentists

Clockwise from left, Dr. Wolff; Dr. David L. Glozer, Clinical Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care; Dr. Andrew Schenkel, Clinical Associate Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care; Dr. Meir Kozlovsky, Clinical Assistant Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care; Dr. John R. Calamia, Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care; Dr. James M. Kaim, Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care; Dr. Kenneth Allen, Associate Professor of Cariology & Comprehensive Care

While many dental schools have embraced virtual learning, NYUCD's approach is to make it pervasive throughout the curriculum. By using information technologies, NYUCD has created a virtual cyber classroom, eliminating the need for student and teacher to be brought together physically in the same place and at the same time, making educational materials accessible to students anytime and anywhere, and, in so doing, increasing opportunities for more self-directed learning.

Examples range from providing the entire curriculum on DVD, to issuing students Palm Pilots that give them instant access to vital clinical and therapeutic data, to podcasting NYUCD lectures through iTunes U. By utilizing computers and communications in new ways, we are able to bring vast amounts of knowledge to students' fingertips. But even as we recognize the importance of technology, we also understand that it is only a tool. No matter how sophisticated, technology cannot take the place of context, continuity of care, and the imparting of professional values.

That vision is reflected in the name of the department that I chair-Cariology & Comprehensive Care. When I joined NYUCD in 2005, that department did not exist; its forerunner was the much smaller Department of Operative Dentistry. By electing to use the term "cariology" and coupling it with "comprehensive care," NYUCD in essence declared that dental caries is an infectious disease, and that etiology, treatment, prevention, and risk assessment warrant priority attention within the curriculum. Along with that expanded definition came a new requirement for NYU dental students--that they learn to act as full-body guardians, rather than just as stewards of the mouth. Two years later, when I was appointed to the new position of Associate Dean for Predoctoral Dental Education, with responsibility for the entire preclinical and clinical curriculum, I was in a privileged position to formulate a set of objectives that provide students with a perspective on patient care that transcends the technological even as it embraces it.

These objectives include:

  • making NYUCD a leader in the minimally invasive, nonsurgical management of dental caries
  • shifting the dental education paradigm away from the mechanics of tooth repair and toward risk assessment and prevention, thereby enabling the dentist to play a key role in improving the overall quality of a patient’s life
  • fostering students' ability to become sophisticated consumers of research, who are capable of reading, understanding, and critically assessing the scientific literature and of selecting the best, evidence-based quality care for a patient over a lifetime
  • infusing the entire curriculum with the intangible skills of doctoring--communication, humanism, compassion, and professionalism
  • making our graduates better thinkers and better practitioners than they would be, given a different dental curriculum.

A key benefit of this approach is that it enables the alignment of all of the College's clinical departments in one direction so that all of our clinical faculty are on the same page in terms of moving our students forward. This is especially important given our commitment to teach the use of evidence-based practice (EBP), which uses the best possible evidence, combined with clinical expertise and patient preferences, to inform clinical decision making.

Using this approach, we have developed a number of novel programs that we believe are substantially improving the experience we offer both to our students and to our patients. In the articles that follow, you will learn how NYUCD is putting this approach into practice in a series of predoctoral educational programs that combine hefty doses of ingenuity with technology to train tomorrow's dentists.