4 Huge Changes to Dental Education

In June 2016, I started a summer KCL’s iTEL Hub. iTEL is short for, “Informatics and Technology Enhanced Learning”. The aim of the department is to enhance learning and teaching using technology, which gave me a unique insight into the future of how learning in dentistry might look like.

One of the highlights of the job was helping to develop resources for the King’s College London Dental Institute collaboration with BYBO, one of China’s largest dental providers. This collaboration meant creating an online virtual learning environment for dentists in China, working for the BYBO Dental Group.


Utilising Technology

Textbooks have historically been viewed as the bread & butter of self-study at university, however, the age-old traditions of reading chunky library textbooks are slowly being challenged and replaced with a simple web search.

Over the last decade, many universities in the UK, have been investing in e-learning environments. The popularity of resources such as Khan Academy’s lectures & e-learning courses over traditional lectures has proven that online lectures are slowly but surely superseding live lectures. The advantages of this are numerous – for students, you can listen to lectures at will, at any time, with the simple ability to pause, rewind & speed up the recording helping students learn at their own pace. For institutes, this saves time & money, allowing lecturers to pre-record the perfect lecture, in multiple takes, meaning that they only have to re-do parts of it when the information becomes outdated, instead of presenting the same lecture, over and over.

Within dentistry, the success of movements such as Tooth Wise for dental news & Dentinal Tubules for webinars shows that the next generation is moving away from textbooks. Instead, they are searching for a more streamlined way to learn. Webinars & online courses geared towards dentists are becoming increasingly prevalent.


More Simulation-Based Learning

First came the radio, then the TV, then 3D technology. Now, Virtual Reality headsets have become a reality, with augmented reality poised to revolutionise industries such as the games industry & even military training.

“Phantom heads” have been used since 1894 and are an established tool for clinical training. In 2009 a technology called HapTEL was developed at KCL, allowing dental students to practice using fast handpieces on a computer simulation. Other universities such as the University of Leeds & the University of Sheffield have developed similar devices, meaning that students can practice dentistry in simulations before they see patients. In 2015 the University of Sydney acquired 6 dental local anaesthesia simulators, allowing students to practice potentially hundreds of times before actually injecting a patient!

In 2015 the University of Sydney acquired 6 dental local anaesthesia simulators, allowing students to practice potentially hundreds of times before actually injecting a patient!

Applications such as Essential Anatomy 5 & BoneBox are being utilised by students in order to provide an active & engaging kinaesthetic learning environment, where anatomical structures can be spun in every direction, isolated & manipulated to the users liking.


More Discussions & Forums

Traditional teaching & learning methods are being increasingly challenged. While students cannot avoid having to put in the hours to rote learn topics such as anatomy or materials, it is the way in which this information is conveyed to them which matters more.

I believe that social networking & online forums will have an ever-growing role in every educational field – especially dentistry. Dentistry is a vast world. Mediums such as Facebook enable dentists who have never met to share case presentations, ask each other for advice & engage in healthy debate regarding the best way to approach any situation, whether clinical or purely academic. As previously discussed, universities & institutions are catching on. Distance learning platforms allow for discussion forums between academics & clinicians, as well as between clinicians themselves.

The UK-based Facebook group Dental Roots has accumulated over 10,000 members, with daily posts, videos, queries & replies from every facet of the dental community. The ease of access to technology enables anyone to watch clinical videos recorded by dentists all around the world, such as from the Middle East, India, Australia or the USA. This ease of access to information provided by social media has the potential to have a domino effect on every part of dentistry & promote a globalisation of dental academia. Dentinal Tubules is another example of a community centred approach to education, with online resources coupled with in person lectures.

From a patient perspective, online tools such as Dental Chat allow those in dire need of a dentist to instantly message them from the comfort of their homes. Large forums such as Reddit boast 36 million members, with a small but active Dental community of just under 14,000 members.



Within the world of dental higher education, more & more emphasis is being laid on “self-education”. Many dental institutes, such as those in Manchester, Liverpool & Hong Kong, base their undergraduate dental curriculum on Problem Based Learning (also called Enquiry Based Learning). These systems aim to foster students to develop “learner independence” whereby students work in groups & learn in a more auto-didactic fashion rather than operating using the traditional methods of lectures & textbooks.

Another prime example of this trend of “self-education” is when dental professionals speak about the importance of business acumen with regards to dental practices & corporations. Something we often hear from dentists who run practices is things like,

“No-one teaches you business at dental school even though a large proportion of dental graduates go on to run or work within what is essentially a business”.

This has led to the growth in the field of dental economics, with internet discussions & courses to aid dentists to manage their practice finances.



All in all, change is inescapable, for better or for worse. Traditional teaching & learning methods are being challenged ferociously by dental students and institutes alike. I sincerely hope that the next 25 years results in the world which enables education to be more streamlined, discussion-based & easy to access.