Innovation with a Purpose | A Message from the Dean
Our mission statement says, “The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry advances health through scientific discovery, innovative education and the highest-quality care for all communities.” I believe the key phrase in this statement is “care for all communities:” one of the main points of focus for our school is caring for people. Implicit in our mission statement is a quest for us to care for our patients as scientific discovery and technological innovations provide us with new knowledge and improved techniques.
A PubMed search of the term CAD/CAM, or Computer-aided design and computer aided manufacturing, resulted in 29,963 references. The image below highlights the growth in use of CAD/CAM and the level of scientific discovery on the topic over several decades. A similar search of the term Digital Radiography resulted in 461,789 references, while the search of a newer innovation, Cone Beam Computed Tomography, resulted in 10,589 references. These search terms all reference digital formats that help oral health professionals improve the health of their patients. At the School Dentistry, we have used the term “Digital Dentistry” as a catch-all for platforms like these, and it is a reference to all digital processes—not just CAD/CAM.
Over the last decade, our school has been engaged in an effort to introduce digital platforms into the core of how we provide care to our patients and educate our students. For many years, Dr. Omar Zidan has taught an elective course in CAD/CAM dentistry, where students provide digitally fabricated crowns for their patients. Several years ago, the Division of Orthodontics removed plaster from their protocols and began to make only digitized casts of their patients. Multiple divisions have incorporated CBCT into their diagnostic information and, our patients benefit from the 3-dimensional perspective provided. Drs. Ahmad and Gaalaas have begun to improve the way that we can view CBCT, and 2D and 3D radiographic images will be shared across the school with our new PAC system. Dr. Paul Olin and John Madden have been refining digital methods to fabricate dental prostheses with systems like Avadent. This has also included seminal efforts in digital printing of prostheses in our own laboratory.
We must work together as a school to coordinate the use of digital platforms in our quest to advance health. I am grateful for the working group led by Dr. Wee to coordinate these efforts. This work will take an investment of time, as faculty retrain and restructure curricular elements to embed digital dentistry and provide knowledge and skills to our students. It will also take an investment of finances, for equipment and space renovations that allow us to use digital dentistry and incorporate new tools like 3D printing. Our goal is not simply to buy the latest toys, but to improve the way that we provide care for our patients and teach our students to care for their patients in all communities when they graduate. Digital dentistry will support our continued efforts to carry out our mission, improving the health of the patients that we care for.