Dental informatics: relatively new and innovative

Dental informatics* is a new career opportunity that may be of interest to readers of Dental Economics. Dental informatics is a relatively new field that focuses on research and development of computer applications in dentistry. The challenge of participating in this highly innovative field is attracting computer-savvy dentists. Dental schools and industry are looking for individuals with dual qualifications in dentistry and informatics. Until now, few training and career opportunities have exis

Titus Schleyer, DMD, PhD

Associate Professor and Chairman

Department of Dental Informatics

Temple University School of Dentistry

Philadelphia, Pa.

Dental informatics* is a new career opportunity that may be of interest to readers of Dental Economics. Dental informatics is a relatively new field that focuses on research and development of computer applications in dentistry. The challenge of participating in this highly innovative field is attracting computer-savvy dentists. Dental schools and industry are looking for individuals with dual qualifications in dentistry and informatics. Until now, few training and career opportunities have existed. However, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) recently has made training opportunities available.

Dental informatics is a science that concentrates on research and development of systems and technology, as well as telecommunications to improve dental education, patient care, and research. The interdisciplinary field combines areas such as dentistry, computer and information sciences (how computer systems and programs should be designed and implemented), telecommunication (how information should be transmitted), and cognitive science (how humans obtain, store, and retrieve information) to create novel solutions.

There are many examples of new tools that informatics research has provided for practitioners, educators, and researchers. OralCDx, a new method of screening for precancerous and cancerous lesions, became feasible only after researchers had designed a computer program that could screen histologic slides for abnormal cells. Researchers also use informatics tools for everything from computerized data acquisition to identifying which function specific genes have.

During the last few years, several training programs have been established with the help of funding from the NIDCR and the National Library of Medicine. The programs provide tuition, health insurance, a travel and equipment allowance, and a stipend. The University of Pittsburgh/Temple University (www.temple.edu/dentistry/di/pg/) and Columbia University (cpmcnet.columbia.edu/dental/Dental_Fellows.html) offer the two main training programs. Both programs combine a core education in medical informatics with a specialization in dental informatics.

In the Pitt/Temple program, students complete the first year at the Center for Biomedical Informatics (CBMI) and the Department of Information Sciences and Telecom-munications at the University of Pittsburgh. At the same time, the students begin their research for their master?s thesis. In the second year, trainees participate in several courses in dental informatics at Temple University School of Dentistry and complete their research projects.

Currently, dental schools are particularly interested in hiring graduates of these programs. Dental schools need qualified faculty to teach students in computing, develop new computer applications, and implement information systems to support the schools? operations. The growing trend toward computer-based patient records, distance learning, teledentistry, and computer-based decision support offers a fertile field for research and teaching. Faculty in dental informatics have a significant multiplier function, and will influence the development of this new field for years to come.

Other job markets for graduates are dental computer companies, health maintenance organizations, and large group practices.

I would like to invite Dental Economics readers to learn more about dental informatics at our open house on Dec. 6, 2000, at Temple University School of Dentistry, and by visiting our Web page at www.temple.edu/dentistry/di/programs/pg/.

*Abbey L, Zimmerman JE. Dental Informatics. New York: Springer Verlag, 19

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