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Dental school dean Patrick J. Ferillo visits with the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Dental school dean Patrick J. Ferillo visits with the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

I recently had the opportunity to represent our school during a fascinating trip to Thailand. The trip gave me several chances to meet with representatives of the dental community from around the world.

At the 9th World Congress on Preventive Dentistry, held in Phuket, Thailand, I gave a presentation on “Global Actions to Improve Oral Health from the Dental Education Perspective.” The International Association for Dental Research, the main host, organized the event with the World Health Organization, FDI World Dental federation and the International Federation for Dental Educators and Associations. (Read an overview of the event, which happens every four years)

While I was in the country, I had the pleasure to meet with the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok (whom you can see in the photo). Following a presentation I gave, we had a fruitful discussion about current issues and challenges in dental education.

All of us who are in education have some similar issues. The dental curriculum constantly needs to be refined. We need to create effective learning environments that are different from years past, based on the unique ways in which students learn today. There is a strong need to develop faculty and commit resources to faculty training. All dental schools face these challenges, and by exchanging information with our colleagues around the world, we can learn from each other and move our schools ahead.

Our school is fortunate to have a long history of leadership within the field of dental education. I always enjoy sharing some of the secrets of our success, and also learning what is working at schools in other countries. Despite all of the digital communication technology at our fingertips, nothing ever takes the place of seeing another colleague, school or country up close and in person.

I left Thailand with two extraordinary impressions. The first was the Chulalongkorn University faculty’s dedication for excellence and the desire to be on the cutting edge of dentistry within Thailand. My second impression is of the warmth and friendliness of not only the people at the dental school, but all the people of Thailand. Their openness and willingness to help, always with a smile, is a model that we should all live by. I hope in the future I will have the opportunity to once again visit the people of Thailand — or that my hosts will visit us so that we can extend the same sort of hospitality that they extended to me.

Our DDS Class of 2009
Our DDS Class of 2009

A key component of our school’s mission statement is to “actualize individual potential” and one of our core values is Humanism (dignity, integrity, responsibility). In other words, we aspire to help individuals become everything that they are capable of through our supportive and encouraging environment.

I’ve often wondered why the humanistic model of education is such an important part of the culture and success at the Dugoni School of Dentistry. Why do so many students, residents, faculty, and staff thrive as members of the Pacific family? Is there any science that explains why our model works?

Here’s something to ponder. Many years ago, Abraham Maslow developed a theory of personality that influenced a number of different fields, including education. He theorized that individuals can only self-actualize when certain basic needs are achieved in a specific order. His hierarchy theory is often represented as a pyramid with physiological needs (e.g. oxygen, food) at the base; followed by safety needs; needs for love affection and belongingness; needs for esteem; and at the top, needs for self-actualization. When the environment is supportive, individuals will grow and actualize the potential they have inherited.

Maslow believed that the only reason people did not move well in the direction of self-actualization is because of hindrances placed in their way by society. He stated that education could be one of these hindrances and we need to switch from “person-stunting” tactics to “person-growing” approaches.

At Pacific, we’ve definitely adopted the person-growing approach. Our humanistic family environment fosters a feeling of mutual respect, dignity, and self-worth. Our approach to dental education is to create a supportive environment for teaching, learning, and working.

I agree with my mentor and friend Dr. Art Dugoni who said, “I am firmly convinced that we must not just develop superior dentists to succeed as dentists but rather individuals who have truly learned the meaning of life: the ability to express themselves; and the willingness to improve, to listen, and to grow through meaningful experiences with other human beings. What greater gift can we give to our students than the development of their own self worth? This special ingredient says to every individual that they are worthwhile, they are important.”

So this year, as we graduate another group of outstanding students and residents, and celebrate another year of achievement and accomplishment, take the time to think about our fantastic model of education. There’s science behind our success.

I had a great time this past Saturday participating in the annual Pacific Pride Day open house at our school. This year we had approximately 300 potential students and their family members tour our facilities, learn more about our programs and visit with our family of students, faculty and staff.

Pacific Pride Day is an energizing experience for me. I’m passionate about our field and enjoy talking to anyone considering oral healthcare as a profession.

Our profession is really all about people. Oral healthcare providers make a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Our profession puts a smile on people’s faces. Some people are ashamed of their mouth or their smile. Dentists make a direct impact on a person’s health and state of mind.

Those in the field of oral healthcare also teach people that what goes on in their mouths affects their lives. Saliva in the mouth can tell you about your overall health in many ways. For women who are pregnant, diseases of the mouth can impact the health of their baby. Research has also shown that there is an association between periodontal (gum) diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease illness and Alzheimer’s disease.

Our profession also makes a tremendous impact on children. Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among childrenthe young. Oral healthcare providers screen and treat thousands of children every day, helping to alleviate pain and give these children a reason to smile.

My education in dentistry led me to my running my own endodontic specialty practice for many years. I was rewarded every day from people I met and treated. I knew I was making a difference in their health and, in doing so, was making an impact on their lives.

For those considering oral healthcare as a profession, I’m here to encourage you. Whether you find a home at our school or another school, I’m glad you are considering this rewarding field.

I was fortunate to listen to a presentation made by Dr. Ling Jun-qi, professor and dean from the Guanghua School of Stomatology in Guangzhou, China. As part of a recent visit to our school, Dr. Ling Jun-qi gave an informative update on the state of dental education and dentistry in her country.

Dental educators from China recently visited our school.
Dental educators from China during a recent meeting and tour of our school.

In the United States, roughly 20 percent of our population has no access to oral healthcare. That equates to around 60 million people.

It is extraordinary when you think of the issue in China where they are dealing with a patient population of 1.5 billion. They have roughly the same number of dentists in China as we have in the U.S. The issues of access to care have to be extremely overwhelming for the country.

As we all know, oral health and overall health go hand in hand. It gives you some sense of the magnitude of the status of health in an incredibly fast-emerging country. When you read about China, it does not give you an excuse to say we are better off. We have significant problems here that need to be solved.

The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world. At one time, before the economic downturn, California was estimated to have the seventh-largest economy in the world. Yet our state has some of the highest rates of tooth decay among children in the U.S. My perspective is that we have a significant problem for a country of our size and wealth.

Perhaps we have something to learn as other countries struggle with the problem of access to care. How they solve these issues may give us some insight into solving our problems as well. The bottom line is we have a lot to learn from each other. That is the importance of being involved globally. While problems may be of a different magnitude, they are the same in many ways. Access to care for the population is a worldwide problem. It’s a greater problem in many other countries, but we still all should work to develop strategies to address it.

I enjoyed discussing some of these shared issues with the leaders from the Guanghua School of Stomatology. You can read more about their visit and see a photo of the group with our Dean’s Cabinet on our Web site.