Students See the Future of Dentistry

They have only just begun, but they’re not wasting any time.

The students in the Tufts Dental Technology Club, which started this past February, are dedicated to seizing opportunities for new technology utilization at the dental school. For Benjamin Costa, D15, the intersection is natural.

‘A crown in the clinic using a stone cast requires three appointments, plus lab time. [With] CAD/CAM, the entire process can be done in less thanan hour.’

“Dentists have a bit of an obsession with technology,” Costa said, “There’s a long history of technology changing the way dentistry functions.”

The club was started by students who were inspired to find new ways to integrate technology into the dental curriculum. Their current focus is to increase student exposure and knowledge about computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) for dental restorations. According to club President David Frantz, D15, Tufts already does a terrific job bringing technology onto campus, but dental students could use more time with the CAD/CAM machinery and need to fully integrate it into their work in the clinic.

“I know a lot of school’s don’t even offer CAD/CAM yet, and the fact that we do is terrific,” he said. “What’s not so much here is integration with the student experience. There isn’t an official protocol or established process for the students to learn how to do it.”

The school’s CAD/CAM machines create digital impressions, using the data to create crowns, inlays and onlays, and other restorations. The Tufts Dental Technology Club has met twice for hands-on training with CAD/CAM. Dr. Ala Ali, Instructor in the Department of Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry, and Dr. Ali Muftu, Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry, are both advising the approximately 35 club members on how best to train on CAD/CAM and incorporate it into the clinic. They have also started a blog to post meet summaries, relevant literature and news from the industry.
“The goal is to establish an unbiased, commercial free virtual platform for faculty, students, alumni and colleagues,” Dr. Muftu said. “We are living in a very exciting time for dentistry and we should raise awareness by any means, including social media.

The next steps for the club are to train a “core group” of students well enough that they can become trainers themselves. The core group will then go on to work as teaching assistant in their fourth year and train the next group in the CAD/CAM technology.

“This is the future of dentistry, so I’m encouraging my students to learn all they can about it,” Dr. Ali said. “I want to offer it to our predoctoral students so they are more competitive when they graduate. Creating a core student group who know this technology will help that exposure to spread to the rest of the student body.”

For Frantz and Costa, the club goes beyond being prepared for job interviews. For them, proficiency in CAD/CAM helps them practice restorative dentistry more quickly, efficiently, and accurately. For example, creating and fitting a crown in the clinic using a stone cast requires three appointments, plus lab time. In private dental offices that use CAD/CAM, the entire process can be done in less than an hour.

“I can’t tell you how many stone impressions I’ve broken,” Costa said. “Someone bumps into you, and that’s it. You have no means to replicate that work. CAD/CAM allows you to literally mill the crown exactly how you want it, and if you make a mistake, you can go back and correct it. The procedure is faster, it has the potential to be more exact, and the patient’s happier.”

The Tufts Dental Technology Club members are also thinking beyond CAD/CAM. Recent advancements in 3-D printing could potentially apply to dentistry. Frantz and Costa imagine a future where dentists could print out perfect crowns or inlays, or even reproduce a working model of a patient’s skull to use as a natural articulator.

“The technology is there, or it will be soon,” Frantz said. “Dentistry’s going to make a big jump from the Stone Age to the Digital Age. Forget about bronze and iron.”