How dental schools can prepare the next generation of dentists: 4 insights

A greater emphasis on business and practice management is needed in dental schools to prepare graduates for the industry, several dentists told Becker's. 

Four dentists recently connected with Becker's to answer, "What more can dental schools do to prepare students for success in the dental industry?"

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Anita Agarwal, DMD. NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi (New York City): Dental schools need some focus on real-life dentistry. After the fourth year, it would be beneficial to add a one-year paid internship to most programs. Students upon graduation are ill-prepared for their financials, costs of practicing, dental insurances, scheduling, skill and practice management. Additional guidance on making real-life decisions would provide overall benefits to enable work-life balance.

Afshin Azmoodeh, DDS. Canyon Creek Family Dentistry of Richardson (Texas): I think dental schools should try to better prepare dental students for entering the real world and the business of dentistry. This could be accomplished through several steps, some of which are clinical and others that are business related. From a clinical point of view, dental schools should try to better prepare their students in handling endodontic treatments and re-treatments in periodontal surgeries and both surgical and prosthetic implantology cases. These happen to be some of the more lucrative parts of dentistry. More proficient dental students in these fields would have higher self-confidence [and] more satisfying clinical experiences early on in their careers and would benefit more financially as well. From a business point of view, dental schools should have multiple related informative sessions in their junior and senior years.  Typically, at least when I was in school 25 years ago, there was only one two-hour-long business-related session in our senior year. That is definitely not enough to guide students in better handling the business part of our profession. 

Gregory Farber, DMD. Day Hill Dental (Windsor, Conn.): For sure, that is a loaded question!  Books can be written on that subject but, briefly:

  1. Clinical competency exams/checkpoints after students perform a certain number of procedures in basic crown/bridge/prosthodontics, endodontics, operative, periodontics, oral surgery and [pediatric dentistry].
  2. Complete, at minimum, a one-year general practice/advanced education in general dentistry program or specialty residency program
  3. Offer a business/management course
  4. Complete a small number of 'rotations' observing private practices/clinics in operation

Joseph Kim, DDS. Modern Dentistry (Yorkville, Ill.) and Halcyon Dental (Sugar Grove, Ill.): Dental schools can do several things to help prepare their students for success. Schools should offer greater exposure to practice management, or the business of dentistry. This could be offered as an elective, online presentation or another format that prepares students in their first year for what to expect once they begin practicing in their chosen discipline. 

Along those lines, emphasizing the importance of soft skills in their psychology class, such as empathy, leadership, integrity and stress management as well as finding ways to better integrate these skills into their entire dental school experience. Perhaps the most important area that could be focused on is networking with alumni, academy members of various disciplines and other organizations that help build up the profession and provide mentorship and other opportunities beginning in dental school. At the end of the day, dentistry is a people business, from treating patients, to working with a team, to finding other partnerships and opportunities with other dental professionals.

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