"This is a crisis. There has been a 67% reduction in accredited dental technology programs and a reduction in the number of new comprehensively trained dental technicians entering the job pool from traditional sources including the military. At the same time, there has been a shift in curriculum in dental schools drastically reducing the experiences and number of clock hours required for dental students. Dentistry and dental technology are at a crossroads," said Dr. Bill Yancey, assistant dean and director of UCLA Continuing Dental Education and Alumni Affairs, during his presentation to attendees at the Future of Dental Technology Conference held at the ADA headquarters in Chicago on August 7.
Dr. Burney Croll, a prosthodontist from New York City, echoed Yancey's concerns. "The level of skill required to fabricate a single molar is much different than for large complex cases. How will technicians be educated to integrate complex treatment and who will handle these cases in the future?" he asked.
Add to the equation the fact that the lack of dental technology training in dental schools is rendering a generation--or more—of graduates who may never have performed dental laboratory procedures, met a dental technician or understand the value of direct communication with technicians. "Recent dental school graduates are lacking basic knowledge. Teamwork between the dentist and technician is essential and yet there is a disconnect among young dentists," said Dr. Damon Adams, editor-in-chief of Dentistry Today.
NADL Co-Executive Director Bennett Napier offered statistics from an NADL/NBC survey on gaps in dental education in which 87% of lab owner/CDT-respondents say dental graduates need to improve their impression-taking skills, 76% say they need to communicate better on their prescriptions and 65% say they need to enhance their crown prep techniques.
This lack of training has an enormous impact on laboratory operations, explained Warren Rogers, CEO, president and owner of Knight Dental Group, Oldsmar, Florida. "According to LMT's 2009 survey, the number one reason dentists switch labs is because of inconsistent quality; well, labs have the same problem with their dentist-clients. Nine percent of our payroll goes toward staff members who are devoted to handling client communication and their technical problems," explained Rogers.
While many of the issues presented are long-standing, the consensus among the speakers was that they are reaching a critical, irrevocable point and action is required. "The ADA needs to spearhead change. Someone with weight needs to make something happen," said Yancey.
The 50 attendees broke into groups to discuss potential solutions and ways to improve the educational situation, promote teamwork between dentists and technicians, deal with the changing face of technology and regulate the industry. The ADA's Council of Dental Practice will review these topics and present an initial report to the ADA House of Delegates in October. In November, the Council of Dental Practice will meet to determine how to proceed.