UTech dental programme on par with best
DR JEFFREY Meeks, Kingston orthodontist and president of the Jamaican Dental Association (JDA), has singled out for criticism the dental programme at the University of Technology (UTech) School of Oral Health Sciences, where our primary mission is to train Jamaican dentists to help address the horrendous problems that exist in Jamaica.
I found Dr Meeks' guest column in the April 29, 2015 edition of The Gleaner ('Toothless defence of UTech dental programme') to be interesting, thought provoking, but also confusing. This often happens when a writer tries to juxtapose unrelated issues. If Dr Meeks has issues with the minister of health, or with the chief dental officer of Jamaica and the Dental Council of Jamaica, I suggest that he addresses these parties via a mechanism other than the court of public opinion. I will confine my comments to his expressed concerns about programme accreditation, faculty credentialing, and dental student quality at UTech
Dr Meeks has raised several issues related to dental education, yet has not provided the reader with his credentials as a dental educator, which would help lend credence to his comments.
I, however, will list mine. I have been a dental educator since 1978 and am a diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. I am in private practice in Beloit, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois, and am a member of the teaching staff at Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago and an adjunct clinical professor at Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine in Downer's Grove, Illinois.
I have also worked in dental public health in Jamaica since 1989, first in Trelawny with the dental volunteer group founded by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry and, subsequently, with Great Shape Jamaica! Thousand Smiles dental project in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril and Whitehouse. Suffice it to say that I am well aware of the dental needs of the people of Jamaica. I hope these credentials will establish my bona fides with Dr Meeks.
Dr Meeks is correct in stating that in the United States (US), dental schools are accredited by the Council on Dental Accreditation (CODA), which is a branch of the American Dental Association (ADA). He is also correct in stating that the Dental Council of Jamaica is similar to our state licensing boards. Each state board is a government agency whose members are appointed by the governor of each state and is responsible for licensing dental professionals and assuring that the state dental practice act is regularly updated to adapt to changes in professional practice.
Therefore, we do not have any "anachronistic Dental Acts from 1972", as is the case in Jamaica. In addition, the state board is responsible for enforcing the various state statutes related to the practice of dentistry. This is very similar to the Dental Council of Jamaica. The state boards, however, are not involved in dental education in any fashion. They are purely regulatory in nature. The various boards leave dental education up to professional dental educators.
In contrast to what Dr Meeks has stated, CODA provides dental schools with broad guidelines related to both predoctoral and postdoctoral dental education. CODA is not involved in the evaluation of the curriculum vitae of individual faculty members, nor does it dictate academic standards for applicants to the dental programmes.
CODA trusts and respects the academic skills of the professional dental educators at these institutions. Therefore, Dr Meeks' assertion that CODA would evaluate the credentials of individual faculty members is
grossly in error. In fact, it is the ADA that establishes the criteria that allow practitioners to hold themselves out as dental specialists, not a state board or CODA.
Therefore, in Jamaica, it would be the Jamaican Dental Association's responsibility to determine if a dental practitioner had the qualifications to call himself or herself an orthodontist or an endodontist or a periodontist.
It is, therefore, the sole responsibility of the JDA to determine the veracity of dental practitioners in Jamaica holding themselves out as dental specialist, not UTech or the Dental Council. Professional dental educators are unlikely to approve the credentials of a potential faculty member until an exhaustive search of their curriculum vitae is performed. This is common practice in the certification of all university faculty members, regardless of the particular discipline.
I would like to assure the citizens of Jamaica that the visiting international faculty at UTech are world-class authorities in their respective clinical speciality areas.
Another misstatement by Dr Meeks is that US dental graduates must graduate from an accredited dental school in order to take the state or regional licensing exam. That is just not true. Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine is a new dental school in the United States and does not have CODA accreditation, although this is pending. Our new dental schools are not allowed to apply for full accreditation until they have been operating, for example, in the case of Midwestern, for almost four years.
We are about to graduate our first class of 125 students this month. These students have already been allowed to take the regional dental board [examination] in spite of the school not having full CODA accreditation. In fact, the accreditation status of the US dental schools can vary from full to provisional to probationary status and at no time would the status of the school preclude a dental graduate from taking a licensing examination.
The citizens of Jamaica need to know that in my 37 years as a dental educator, I have never seen a group of students as knowledgeable, motivated and dedicated to the dental profession as the dental students at UTech. In oral surgery, they are actually taught to a much higher level than students in the US because of the greater need for general dental practitioners in Jamaica to be competent at exodontia.
US dental students barely master the ability to perform simple extractions, whereas their Jamaican counterparts are instructed in simple and complex exodontia because of the needs of the dental public here. My fellow oral surgery colleague at UTech is a world-renowned oral and craniomaxillofacial surgeon who is a consultant at the Kingston Public Hospital. I hope her "bona fides" would be acceptable to Dr Meeks.
- Dr Ronald L. Guttu is adjunct professor and chairman of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Oral Medicine at UTech School of Oral Health Sciences. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.