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    Current challenges for dental education in Japan and the United States

    This paper sheds light on the similarities and differences in dental educational challenges between Japan and the United States (US). The challenges include attracting the outstanding students into dental schools; preserving high academic standards through continuous training and development of new faculty; and enhancing dental curriculum, teaching methods, and assessing results, in order to meet present and future public healthcare needs, and to integrate new scientific developments into dental practice.

    In the United States, the practice of dentistry in the private sector is deemed to be one of the most financially rewarding professions despite the tumble in the present economy. This can be observed through the exponential growth in the number and quality of applicants to dental schools in the past decade. On the contrary, in Japan, the dentistry scene in the private sector differs which can influence future application to dental schools. Currently, the number of registered dentists is not exceptional high. However, dental practitioners and the Japan Dental Association have expressed their thoughts about decreasing student enrollment numbers for dental schools, attributing distress to the disproportionate number of dental clinics present. With the dynamic hygiene structure and higher patients’ expectations, dentists who are only good enough for treatment covered by the national health insurance are facing challenges, while some dentists enjoy good business by only treating patients who pay out of their pocket. Therefore, the Japanese Government has attempted to control the costs of dental treatment covered by the national health insurance to avoid further amplification of total government-reimbursed medical expenses. However, lower fee structures also meant that dentists are less inclined to sharpen their skills and improve their treatment quality. In Japan, some dentists are deemed as the “working poor”; while this publicity can be distorted, it can discourage young people to pursue a dental profession. In reality, some private dental schools have been encountering challenges in recruiting sufficient students.

    However, in the US, despite being in a more positive light, the actual education of new dentists in both public and private dental schools are encountering some extensive obstacles if it is to progress in its present framework. Foremost, among these in the US is the extensive shortfall in new educators in dentistry, particularly, full-time academics who can both educate and continue the research needed to advance the field of dentistry. This major shortfall is also expected to increase exponentially as the present faculty reach retirement age. While this complication is mitigated to a certain extent because of the lack of mandatory retirement age for faculty in the US; in Japan, there is generally a mandatory retirement age. Further, even though the lack of mandatory retirement in the US has resulted in an increase in the average age of dental faculty, in the long run there will still be a need to source means to encourage more interest in students to pursue full-time academic careers.

    Another significant reason for the present lack of interest in pursuing an academic career in dentistry in the US is the current framework of the educational system in most US dental schools. Dental students typically deter from pursuing this route because of the redundancy, overcrowding, absence of coordination of content, training in critical thinking and active learning, and lack of time to pursue individual interests. Undifferential educational problems can be found in the dental education of Japan. Therefore, to meet the current and future challenges in dental education, many US dental schools have integrated the content of the curriculum together with the institution of more web-based and active learning experiences to allow the institution of new programs in dental education to meet the imminent dental demands; and the most prominent of these is the expanding utilisation of implant therapies by both dental specialities and general practitioner in relatively less complicated scenarios. This increased demand for implant therapy has been the push in instituting undergraduate implant programs in most US dental schools.

    The idea merging problem based and active learning into the curriculum of many US dental schools can be seen in the framework of the testing within dental schools and on national dental boarded needed for licensure. Both in the United States and Japan, an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) framework to determine competencies at various stages of education is increasing being adopted by dental schools.

    In addition, in Japan, another critical challenge for faculty is the shift from traditional teaching method to the embodiment of more learner-centered activities. In the US there has been a deviation in focus from the large lecture classroom format to small group discussions, panel discussions, student presentations, and digital presentations that can be reviewed at any time. These new technological educational methods have been tapped on to change the traditional lecture-style presentations.

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    Participate in the upcoming QS Subject Focus Summit – Dentistry under the theme of “Changing Paradigm in Dental Education for Future Excellence” from 4-6 April 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.

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