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Dumbing down of dentistry
The opinions within this web page are not ours. Authors have been credited for the individual posts where they are
Australian Dental Journal 2009; 54: 1

The Dumbing Down of Dentistry 

I have written about this before and I am sure I will write about it again.
The dental schools are in trouble and, therefore, dentistry is in trouble.
The experts tell us we need more dental schools especially in rural areas
to not only retain, but also attract dentists, to these regions. While an
admirable goal, at what cost will this be achieved? The established dental
schools in Australia have a  solid, sound and proud tradition of academic
excellence involving teaching, research and service.Some of the‘‘new-age’’
dental schools, often with af?liations to less traditional academic
institutions, appear to have no such ethos. A recent article published in
Campus Review * quoted one senior Australian academic as advocating the
concept of moving away from full-time academic appoint- ments in dental
schools to mixed or blended appointments of hiring local dentists to do
most, if not all, of the teaching. While on the surface this may seem
reasonable, I am concerned over the qualifications and experience of these
new wave academics for university teaching and research and service. While
local dentists may have considerable clinical experience, how can we be
sure they are  at the cutting edge of knowledge and expertise we would
expect of a ‘‘real academic’’? I suspect the answer could be debatable but
I doubt the majority of these new wave teachers will have been reading
current top ranking and high impact journals in their supposed fields of
expertise  encompassing all fields of clinical and scientific dentistry.
I have my reservations as to when some of them may have last attended a
serious clinical update course to improve their knowledge base and clinical
skills in any of the specialist areas of dentistry. While I suspect I will
get ‘‘howled down’’ for such inflammatory statements the truth hurts and we
must accept the simple reality of the situation. These schools are likely
to be staffed by technical experts but by no stretch of the imagination true
academics at the forefront of the science and art of their specialized field.
A more sensible alternative  to opening up a plethora of new-age dental
schools, as suggested by another senior academic,* would have been to
utilize the existing expertise of the existing schools and rotate students
to rural settings under the guidance and supervision of mainstream
academics. The time has come for the profession at large to consider the
real rami?cations of the dumbing down of dentistry. The dental schools,
both traditional and new age, are suffering from a staf?ng crisis. There
are very few young academics in training and even fewer appropriately
qualified individuals available  and willing to step into academia. The
obvious sequelae to this is that in the not-too-distant future academic
positions will be flled by under-trained and under-qualified staff who
will not be able to  compete and survive in the overall university
environment. We run the risk of returning to the apprentice training scheme
of eons ago. I strongly believe that a dental school may well be clinically
strong but without a strong research base it will be nothing. Think of the
‘‘great dental schools’’ in the world and you will quickly see that their
reputation comes from their research not their clinical excellence. The
clinical excellence comes as a secondary factor to the research excellence.
With the  demise of academics capable of undertaking serious research,
clinical work at the forefront of each discipline and providing service to
the profession by way of postgraduate training and continuing education,
it is obvious that this has the potential to lead to the dental schools
being sequestered off from traditional universities as they will no longer
be able to ful?l their obligations to warrant status as bone ?de university
departments. Who will take them? The only options available will be to either
privatize the dental schools, realign them with the so-called ‘‘new-age
universities’’ or see them engulfed by technical training colleges. None of
these should be palatable options for our profession. I hope the future
proves me wrong. However, if my predictions are correct then the dumbing
down  of dentistry will be a fact and something that we will all have been
responsible for allowing to happen.

P Mark Bartold

*Gilling J. Taking dentists to the people. Campus Review.
1 December 2008.  ª 2009 Australian Dental Association 1

Schools are broke. Students are having a hard enough time paying exorbitant
tuitions.  Some schools are so hard up for clinical staff that grads 3
years out of school are on the clinic floor teaching.(Ask me how I know.)

There is a generation of Dentists my age that went through what was the
equivalent of a Dental School hazing. 30 years later they are still bitter
and angry. They not only don’t contribute funds to the school but the
treatment they received as students that they vowed never to return in any
fashion. It is unfortunate but it is true.  Other dentists get involved
for a while but become so fed up with the bureaucracy, ridiculous
regulations, paperwork, and bending over backwards for students.
( Now THERE’S a change!). The pendulum has swung the other way and now
there is so much financial and political pressure to graduate students
( regardless of their abilities) that we are getting some pretty poor
quality graduates.  Not to mention the ethical problems.

I have nothing but the highest admiration and regard for people like our
esteemed ROOTer Dr. Barnett. Although I am sure his students appreciate his
tutelage, I don’t think they really are in a position (right now) to
comprehend what a wonderful opportunity has come to them. Once they
graduate and see how they compare to others, they will realize how truly
fortunate they are having Fred as a teacher. Unfortunately the number of
Freds out there is very few.

So to some of you on ROOTS who may be waffling on your support of your
local school:   If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the
problem.  Yes, the schools don’t pay well. Yes, it is time away from the
office and yes it can be work (like when you prepare a lecture)  but if
we cannot see the obligation we have to these students, perhaps we can
remember the obligation we have to our profession. And if your experience
at Dental school was horrific, why not consider trying to make it better
for someone else?

Lastly, interaction with the local Dental School can also help YOU keep
current and can enhance your contacts with fellow professionals who
aren’t spending their time whoring for the latest Dental Manufacturer.
- Rob Kaufmann

Cases by:
Ahmad Tehrani
Fred Barnett
Glenn Van As
Marga Ree
Mark Dreyer
Noemi Pascual
Sashi Nallapati
Terry Pannkuk
Winfried Zeppenfeld

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