Earth made contact with the planet Badgumbian, and its ambassador is coming to meet with the president of the United Nations to forge this important new relationship. But Earth’s representative has a toothache and might not be able to participate in this historic meeting.
University of Michigan students in an undergraduate class called “Science and Practice of Dentistry in the 21st Century” addressed this science fiction dental crisis as a writing assignment to explore the many roles of dentists and the importance of their jobs. They then presented their visions for resolving the dilemma in class.
Bryan Kitahara, for example, described a preventive gene therapy the UN president unfortunately had not received, leaving her with several problem teeth that he would treat with non-invasive implants. “As it turns out,” he wrote, “the Badgumbians had named their planet after their tendency to have very severe periodontitis—a condition to which the president could relate. Consequently, they took a great interest in our periodontal technologies, and an instant alliance was forged between the two worlds.”
In Lauren Darmanin’s vision, the dentist “quickly began construction of the missing part of the tooth, using materials created from a sample of (the president’s) DNA to help mimic the natural structure of the original tooth.” Ms. Darmanin also expounded on dental advances of the future including Super-Pain-Eliminating-Gel and X-ray chewing gum.
This assignment for these undergraduates is designed as a way to promote creative learning in science. “What I don’t want them to do is rote memorization,” said Dr. Russell Taichman, Associate Professor of Dentistry, who teaches the class. Dr. Peter Polverini, Dean of the School of Dentistry, began the seminar class while he was a department chair, and Dr. Taichman took it over three years ago.
Dr. Taichman said nearly all of the undergraduates in the class started the semester intending to become dentists and about half said they have a family member who is a dentist. He sees his job as exploring the wide range of careers available for those who will continue on to dental school and helping those who are not sure they really want to be dentists find clarity.
Through a series of guest speakers, students learn the history of dentistry and discuss its future, and they are introduced to the roles of academic, research, private practice, and hospital dentists. Dental school students talk about what their life is like, and specialists discuss periodontics, orthodontics, and forensic dentistry.
They also talk about topics the students might not think of as dentistry: the history of fluoridating municipal water, for example, or cutting-edge work in tissue engineering, which generates cells outside the body to create such things as new bone or the mouth’s mucuous lining.
“I want to open their minds to a whole range of career options,” said Dr. Taichman.