In a few short years, there may be a new kind of health care specialist in the neighborhood—the dentist-physician.
Case Western Reserve University's School of Dental Medicine, in partnership with the university's flagship medical school, will begin offering a dual D.M.D.-M.D. program next year. The program enables students to graduate from Case with both the medical and dental degrees in five years.
Although other schools have attempted to establish similar programs, this is the first in the country to offer a dual degree for students pursuing studies to become general dentists. The program is patterned after the kind of cross medical-dental training that oral surgeons receive during their residencies following their general dental school training.
The program leads to eligibility for dental licensure on completion of the program as well as eligibility for medical licensure after finishing a medical residency.
Jerold Goldberg, dean of the Case dental school, said they are looking for "some bright students with a pioneering spirit to explore" this new idea where the dentist can provide a broader scope of health care.
For years, physicians and dentists have set up professional offices side by side, but the patient has never had the benefit of each service in a one-stop shop. This new kind of dentist-physician enables patients to have the advantage of both those services in one office.
Goldberg says that patients tend to visit their dentists more frequently than their medical doctor. With the skills of the new dentist-physician, patients can be monitored for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease as well as engage in behavior modification programs such as smoking cessation or weight loss that impact physical and oral health.
Research studies from Case's dental and medical schools have linked a number of diseases, including cancer, heart, diabetes, arthritis and preterm labor, to poor oral health. The lines between oral health and overall general health have become fuzzy in recent years, according to Goldberg.
Goldberg said that as a generation of dental and medical students will go through school alongside these new pioneers in healthcare, the idea will become more acceptable and reinforce that strong link between oral and physical health.
"It's a new role for a dental practitioner and reflects a belief that dental health is related to general health," said Marsha Pyle, associate dean for education at the dental school and who is overseeing the integration of the dental and medical curriculums.
The program is doable, according to Goldberg and Pyle, who have worked with the medical school to integrate a number of basic science courses for both programs.
"These pioneering students will redefine the role of the dental profession in health care delivery," said Goldberg.
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