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What do we want from dentists of the future?

Written by
1st June 2017

I found it surprising that so many dental graduates are signing up for MScs and I wonder if this is commentary on the curriculum that is set by the General Dental Council?

My reflections gained further traction when I found myself in conversation with a retired dentist, formerly involved in dental education. He questioned whether tomorrow’s dental graduates are being properly prepared to meet the needs and expectations of patients. He surmised that the reason many graduates are going on to do an MSc is to better prepare themselves for the world of work.

The style of dental school inspections in the days when the majority of the council were dentists – when I was an undergraduate – were robust and informed, he said. They took place every five years and the Deans would soon be told if their course, staff, buildings or equipment fell short in any way. At the inspectors’ recommendation, topics that weren’t covered in that school’s curriculum but which were considered to be relevant would be added in so the curriculum stayed up-to-date.

By contrast, according to my friend, the inspections today are more of a general quality assurance exercise. I think the word tick box was mentioned! The reason this is a concern is that the world is changing rapidly, as are the expectations of patients. My acquaintance advocates a new style of dental degree, in which there is an element of specialisation in the last year. He was also of the view that behaviour management training should be included in the curriculum. Dentists need to be skilled at diagnosis, at leadership and in guiding and advising patients. Other additions to the curriculum that would better prepare dentists of the future might be dental implants and aesthetics.

The trouble is that it takes a long time to change a curriculum. The prospectuses for the dental courses starting in 2018 are probably almost set so it would be 2019 before a new direction could be implemented. It would be several years – possibly 2026 – before the first cohort of dental undergraduates to experience the new style of dental degree would enter the world of work.

But I agree with him. The GDC needs to devote some time and energy to make sure that dentists of the future are appropriately trained to meet the needs of patients in the 2020s.

Personally speaking, I think it’s crucial that dentists are trained in digital technology, although it’s also very important that they have a good grasp of all the clinical aspects first.


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