Tag Archives: dentistry

Dental Camp: Kids Explore Careers in Oral Health

Junior high and high school students from throughout the Northern California area recently gathered at the Dugoni School of Dentistry for Dental Camp, an annual program hosted by the school. Due to high demand for the program, the 2013 event increased its attendance capacity from 60 to 80 young students, who spent the day of February 9 immersed in hands-on dental activities. And, there were another 35 students on the wait list.

Students visited from schools throughout San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton, Santa Rosa, and Sacramento and many other areas in the region. All were excited to come to the dental school to learn more about careers in oral health. The students spent time in the simulation laboratory and dental clinics, learning how to restore and create models of teeth, as well as learning some of the day-to-day activities of dental professionals. They were able to take molds of their own teeth, and prepare a restoration on a mock tooth during the hands-on activities.

Many volunteer dental students, faculty and staff members participated in the event and helped educate attendees about the importance of oral hygiene, careers in dentistry and what life is like as a dental student. Volunteers from Pacific’s Dental Hygiene program in Stockton were also on hand for the day.

Careers in dentistry were recently mentioned in the national news, with U.S. News & World Report listing “dentist” as the No. 1 most desirable profession in 2013 in its annual list of the best jobs in the country released in December 2012. The magazine analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, including employment growth, median salary, future job prospects, the unemployment rate and the occupation’s estimated stress level and work-life balance. Additionally, “dental hygienist” made the list in the number 10 spot.

Standard Operating Requirements

By David W. Chambers

Several years ago I met a man who owns a car wash. When he found out where I work, he told me he had once wanted to be a dentist. In fact, he had been a student at P&S when it was on 14th Street. “I didn’t make it,” he said. “It seemed like all the professors wanted to show you how much they knew. And they didn’t mind telling you how little they thought I knew, and they weren’t very kind about how they did it.”

I told him things have changed. He didn’t seem bitter, just disappointed that he missed out on the transformation that former Deans Dale Redig and Arthur A. Dugoni made at Pacific, in dental education generally and in the profession. Our attitude today is “We’re very glad you are here; let’s develop you into a fantastic practitioner!”

The twin cultural changes go by the names of competency and humanism. The first views education as a learner-centered process for producing a professional ready for practice; the second is grounded in a community that respects the dignity and potential of all its members.

Although these sea changes both started at Pacific and have been nurtured here for more than 40 years, they are now standard operating requirements in every dental school in the United States. That is a bold statement, but one that has teeth. In 1997, the Commission on Dental Accreditation adopted standards saying that, “The stated goals of the dental education program MUST be focused on education outcomes and define the competencies needed for graduation, including the preparation of graduates who possess the knowledge, skills and values to begin the practice of general dentistry [Standard 2-4].“ The American Dental Education Association has adopted, by policy, a generic set of competencies; and all dental schools have developed ones that match their unique missions while honoring the core skills, knowledge and values of dental practice. These are not suggestions; all dental schools must operate this way now or they will lose their accreditation.

In July 2013, a new set of accreditation standards will go into effect, maintaining competency and adding humanism. All dental schools will be expected to maintain a “dental school environment characterized by respectful professional relationships between and among faculty and students … that inculcates respect, tolerance, understanding and concern for others.”

Competency

Competencies were introduced to dentistry in a 1993 Journal of Dental Education paper I wrote, called “Toward a Competency-Based Dental Curriculum.” Since then scholarship in this area has accumulated and other professional programs have adopted competency, including nursing, dietetics, business and optometry.

The process began more than a decade before the first paper when then Dean Dale Redig appointed me as director of the Introduction to Comprehensive Patient Care (ICPC) course. This is the Monday, all-day lecture-preclinical-clinical course during the first four quarters that gets students ready for their fast start in clinical care. It was an unconventional move by Redig to put a non-dentist in charge of the second-largest dental course in the program.

But it was critical for competency-based education. There was no way I could make students in my own image: I had to ask “the customers,” the department chairs and clinic administration, what they expected passing students in ICPC to look like.

The deep roots of competency can be traced to Harvard University’s John Carroll who advocated mastery education. No one should be allowed to move on to the next level until they have mastered the preceding steps. Stanford University’s Lee Cronbach also has his fingerprints on the idea. He was fond of saying that the prevailing approach to education was wrong because it standardized the method and expected a distribution of outcomes. He advocated instead that we fix the outcome and vary the methods.

Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni pushed competency-based dental education farther. In 1990, he appointed me as academic dean and made it clear he expected the competency system to be applied to the whole school. Part of the process was the so-called “big bucket” approach. Virtually all 10-hour lecture courses were combined into larger and more multidisciplinary ones. At the time, the policy of the American Association of Dental Schools (the forerunner of ADEA) was based on complete coverage of all that teachers in various disciplines felt comfortable teaching. This amounted to about four feet of curriculum guidelines and an estimated nine-year predoctoral program. The Curriculum Committee adopted a policy that the educational program would only be justified based on what dentists needed for practice rather than what faculty members wanted to teach.

Pacific’s competencies are posted on our website at www.dental.pacific.edu/x1867.xml. If they read a lot like the job description of a practicing general dentist, that is what they are supposed to be.

Although these sea changes both started at Pacific and have been nurtured here for more than 40 years, they are now standard operating requirements in every dental school in the United States.

Humanism

Humanism is not an educational process like evidence-based dentistry, problem-based learning, technology-assisted education, small-group discussion, vertically-integrated clinics or any other hyphenated methodology. It is a culture. It is who we are. Pacific changed its personality dramatically from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. In Dean Redig’s terms, it stopped being a place that tore people down. In Dean Dugoni’s terms, we started to grow people.

When Redig came to Pacific from Iowa in 1969 he found a culture of “toughness.” The College of Physicians and Surgeons was one of the last dental schools to meet the accreditation requirement for integration into a university. There were only a handful of full-time faculty members, and many of the part-time staff were organized into cliques. When William Gies visited P&S to prepare for his now famous Carnegie Foundation report: Dental Education in the United States and Canada, he characterized the school as having a “survivor mentality.” No eyebrows were raised when faculty members berated students in front of their patients. Unsatisfactory lab projects were destroyed on the spot as a kind of public entertainment. Students were dismissed in the middle of a term on nothing more than the suggestion to the dean from a department chair.

All deans until Redig had been insiders (one actually owned the school). The University wanted a change more than the faculty did. But it was obvious that the school’s conditional accreditation status could only be removed by curing the culture. Redig’s response was swift and structural. There were a few meetings, clear guidelines articulated, followed by a period of several months to see who would blink first. New faculty members were brought in to replace those who left. Part-time faculty members were required to take salaries so they could not remain a “fifth column”, and the number of faculty members was increased. Within a few years, a new foundation had been laid by professionalizing the faculty.

Redig had found students somewhat reluctant at first to become beneficiaries of humanism—and also wary of the possibility of getting caught in the middle of the tension between the dean and the faculty, of which they were clearly aware. There were other risks; the old system was more certain: survivors prospered. However, when they fully realized that Redig had meant what he said, and followed through with implementation of new rules and a new way of student, faculty and staff life in the school, they became strong supporters of the positive direction and change that had been put in place.

The second phase in converting Pacific’s culture to humanism was much more gradual and systemic. Dugoni was a product of and understood the old ways at P&S, but he was not sympathetic to its demeaning tendencies. In fact, at one point in his early, part-time teaching career, he had been threatened with immediate firing over his grading practices.

Dugoni focused on the student dimension of humanism. He made students partners in bringing about the humanistic culture. He met with students constantly, in small groups, several-hour meetings that demonstrated his willingness to listen and thus communicate respect, regardless of the details of the conversations. He learned student’s names, and the names of their patients and their children. He was saying, trust first, and then we can do business. It just made sense to Dugoni that students have a unique perspective on their situation and would accept responsibility for their education. The regular evening meetings between student and faculty leaders were notorious for Dugoni’s insisting that the dedicated and most concerned people regarding improving dental education at Pacific were in the room. If they could not make things better no one could.

Dugoni implemented formal changes designed to foster humanism as well. He directed me to lead all department chair searches, about 10 in all, and to oversee the hiring of all full-time faculty members. It was no accident that a criterion in every such search was “understands and respects the unique humanistic culture of Pacific.” That was often the deciding factor in who was hired and who was not. Dugoni also asked me whether anything could be done about student promotion standards. The old system, still used at some schools, involved dismissing students simply based on a low GPA. The new one began there but probed into why performance was below expectation and whether anything could be done to correct it. Contracts were written for students in trouble, requiring tutoring, counseling, diagnostic testing and retesting. Only when attempted remediation failed, or in a few cases, when students declined participation, would students be dismissed or asked to repeat a year.

Both Redig and Dugoni were fond of observing that the way students are treated in dental school shapes the way they will treat their patients, their office team and even their family once they graduate. Between 1995 and 2006, 176 practicing dentists had their licenses disciplined in California. Not one of them was a Pacific graduate.

We were fortunate in the selection and the order of our two previous deans. Redig’s decisive structural changes were needed to pave the way for Dugoni’s more gradual personal touch. The changes they created at Pacific made us all better and are now imitated by every other United States dental school.

I like to think that the fellow who runs the car wash was just the unfortunate victim of bad timing. If his likes were to come into Pacific today there is every reason to believe he would graduate a competent practitioner with a deep sense of worth and dignity.

Healthy Choices

The connection between oral health and overall health is a topic that we dental professionals frequently bring up in our efforts to educate patients and improve their well-being. A healthy mouth contributes to a healthy life, and that’s one message we all should reinforce.

This issue of Contact Point touches on the concept of health in several ways. Our Current Issue section highlights a new lecture series on the link between oral health and systemic health being presented by Dugoni School faculty members at Stanford University School of Medicine. This unique lecture series is bringing together medical and dental professionals to better inform physicians about oral health topics. We’re proud to be part of this collaborative project.

We are also emphasizing overall health around our school community through some new campus activities. Our Health and Wellness Committee takes the lead on many events, including organizing weekly after-school walks around San Francisco’s hills, Boot Camp workouts, guest speakers on health topics, partnerships with fitness centers and our annual Active for Life team fitness program held each fall in partnership with the American Cancer Society. Two years ago the school also launched a weekly farmers’ market on our first-floor plaza to offer healthy produce to students, faculty, staff, patients and the neighborhood. These activities demonstrate that wellness is a focus at the Dugoni School of Dentistry.

This issue also covers University of the Pacific’s purchase of a building to house our future new San Francisco campus—a landmark decision that will benefit future generations of students. The seven-story structure in the City’s South of Market district will provide a vibrant, flexible presence for our dental school and future University programs. Details about the exciting purchase and upcoming renovations are covered in the pages that follow, including thoughts from alumni, students and faculty members.

In planning for the future in terms of how we communicate, we are excited to launch Contact Point Online. Our magazine’s new digital version is a dynamic home for expanded content, exclusive web features, photo galleries and more. We hope you check it out and stay in touch with us online and offline alike.

In a variety of ways, we are contributing to the health of our great institution — our people, programs and the physical structures in which we learn, teach, work and socialize.

In the spirit of supporting wellness in all its forms, we wish you the best in your own health as well.

Patrick J. Ferrillo

Dr. Patrick J. Ferrillo, Jr.

Dean

You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here?

By Stan Constantino

Behind Pacific’s unique culture, there are extraordinary students. Behind every admitted DDS student there is the Office of Student Services. Student Services has created its own humanistic brand that mentors, encourages and inspires the next generation of dentists and dental students.

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry has a rich tradition of producing the best and brightest dentists in the profession, but not all students came looking for a career in dentistry.

If you asked Dr. Chris Nelson ’09 what he thought about dentistry when he was a college student he would have said, “dull.” Crafting an ideal prep for an amalgam restoration? “It’s as interesting as poking holes in a paper with a pencil.”

“Dentistry had been simply the family business, a career my father and his father both enjoyed,” Nelson said. “I knew dentistry combined the science, leadership and business management I desired in a career, yet I was reluctant to pursue it.”

Nelson wasn’t the only one disinclined to pursue dentistry. Dr. Daniel McMillan ’06 exclaimed, “I wanted to make a lot of money and be an actor like Tony Danza!”

“I was into music growing up, but I loved animals too,” added Dr. Jenika Hatcher ’08.

Despite having different, endearing childhood aspirations, Hatcher, McMillan and Nelson landed on the same path—at the Dugoni School of Dentistry.

The dental school’s Office of Student Services, under the leadership of Associate Dean Kathy Candito, has a long history of inspiring and educating potential students through innovative and engaging programs. The Student Services staff of 10, who have a combined 110 years of service at the dental school, also oversees other services including financial aid, insurance, health care and housing.

“We are dedicated to developing and fostering relationships with students who show promise of meeting the oral healthcare needs of the communities they’ll eventually serve,” said Candito, who recently became one of the first women to be named associate dean in the school’s 115-year history. “One of our objectives is to provide these students opportunities to motivate them for a career in dentistry and mentor them in hopes of getting into a dental school—it’s an added bonus if it happens to be at Pacific.”

Predental Clinical Simulation Course

The predental clinical simulation course is a two-day program designed for prospective students to gain hands-on clinical experience and insight into the dental profession as well as dental school.

Taught by current dental students, course activities include: a Class I preparation on an ivorine tooth using high-speed hand pieces and other instruments; amalgam condensation into a Class I restoration on an ivorine tooth; detection of basic interproximal caries on X-rays; and using composite, tooth-colored restorative material and articulating paper.

Last year, the course admitted 60 participants and had 30 people on the waiting list. Predental students come from throughout the United States to attend this highly desirable and innovative program that yields rave reviews.

“The moment I began drilling, I realized with amazing clarity that dentistry was actually fun! With every spin of the bur I was filled with more excitement,” said Nelson, a third-generation graduate of Pacific, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Dr. Leon Nelson ’60 and father Dr. Mike Nelson ’81. “Taking the predental clinical simulation course at the dental school was the deciding factor for me.”

Armed with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence, Nelson began paving his way to dental school. He immediately joined the predental club at University of California at Davis and later became its president. As a student at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, Nelson was active in student government and became involved with numerous outreach and admissions programs, including the predental clinical simulation course that sealed his professional fate.

Dental Camp

In partnership with the California Dental Association, Student Services hosts a day-long dental camp for middle school and high school students to expose them to the dental profession. During the hands-on program, students take impressions of their own teeth, make cavity preparations and learn how to perform oral cancer screenings. Every year, more than 30 students from across the San Francisco Bay Area participate in this event.

Pacific Pride Day

Pacific Pride Day, the dental school’s annual open house, attracts up to 600 prospective students and their families every year. Attendees get an intimate look at the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s educational program through hands-on demonstrations in the preclinical simulation laboratory, student-led tours and information sessions about admissions and financial aid. Participants have lunch with the dean and learn about student life through a panel discussion with current students.

“As a first-year student, I was a host and tour guide at Pacific Pride Day. I really enjoyed it because some of the students on my tour ended up becoming Pacific dental students,” described McMillan, who is now a faculty member at Pacific and practices in Brentwood, California.

“Some of the reasons I chose to apply to Pacific werethe amazing people and indescribable energy and support I felt when I met people associated with the school and when I attended Pacific Pride Day,” said Keon Aghar, Class of 2014. “It’s a special place. Despite how tired and stressed I am at this moment, I really love this place. I just don’t understand how that is possible.”

Developing Connections

At universities and colleges throughout the Western United States, Student Services amplifies its outreach efforts by strategically hosting large admissions and general information sessions for prospective students, especially at predental clubs and honor societies. The two-hour visits usually feature an official presentation followed by a question and answer session. Student Services also participates in career fairs, graduate school and pre-health professions information programs and college advisor meetings.

I hadn’t even thought about being a dentist, but after the presentation, I wanted to be one…I wanted to go to Pacific.”
– Dr. John Kim DDS ’04

In 2010, the staff visited a total of 17 colleges and universities, which attracted more than 500 attendees.

“While other recruitment tools, like online forums and social media, are becoming more prevalent, we believe that building personal relationships with potential students is very important,” said Candito. “Not only do these visits help us find the best and the brightest students, it gives us the opportunity to mentor and nurture students who are undecided on a specific health professions career.”

Dr. John Kim ’04 can attest to the value of developing connections. “As a child growing up in a family of physicians, medicine was always in the back of my mind. But in college I wasn’t so sure anymore. Although, I knew I wanted to stay in the health sciences,” Kim remembered. “By my junior year, Craig (Dr. Craig Yarborough), then associate dean for student services] visited our campus and made a presentation to our health professions study club. The school, the faculty, everyone and everything we learned about Pacific was amazing. I hadn’t even thought about being a dentist, but after the presentation, I wanted to be one … I wanted to go to Pacific.”

Kim eventually matriculated at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, but also received more than what he expected during dental school. After graduation, he married classmate Dr. Misty Cervantes ’04.  Both have thriving practices in Seattle and are raising two children.

Hatcher, who is a dental associate with La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland, California, recalled her first encounter with Pacific and echoed Kim’s sentiments. “When Pacific came to present to us at UC Davis, everyone was so nice  and so warm. I told myself if everyone there is like this, I want to go to school there,” said Hatcher, who was offered admission to several schools throughout the country.

“When I interviewed at Pacific, I fell in love with everyone in admissions and the school. Everyone is genuinely nice. The ‘happy air’ rumors were true,” Hatcher recalled. “Interviewing at other schools was a completely different experience.”

Humanism

Built around the dental school’s core value of humanism, Student Services, current students and alumni personify the “Pacific family.”

“The family environment is one of the greatest drivers of the dental school’s success in enrolling talented students and producing excellent clinicians,” added Candito. “It is also the talented and hardworking Student Services staff, the administration’s vision and the invaluable foundation built by Dr. Craig Yarborough when he was in the position of associate dean for student services.”

“There’s always a sense of family in dental school that continues after graduation,” added Kim. “After I graduated and started as an associate in private practice, I met Dr. Ron Redmond who is a Pacific regent and graduate. Instantaneously, he became a great mentor, a huge factor in my success and my growth. There’s a ‘Pacific type’ and no other dental school can exemplify that.”

“Dr. Art Dugoni used to talk about the magic at Pacific,” McMillan added. “After I graduated and became a faculty member, the first day I pulled up to the school, I thought, ‘the magic is still here.’”

Stan Constantino is assistant director of admissions for the Dugoni School of Dentistry.

Dan O’Neill: Practicing Dentistry on the Frontline

If you graduated from dental school three decades ago, you might be at the point in your career where you’re starting to think about taking things a little easier and even looking ahead to retirement. On the other hand, if you’re Dan O’Neill ’81, you might find yourself in Afghanistan treating the men and women of the U.S. and coalition forces, including Bulgarian, Canadian, British, Spanish and French soldiers, as well as contractors.

After graduation, O’Neill took the Canadian boards and practiced in Canada for a year before turning to his hometown of Butte to start a private practice. He joined the Montana Army National Guard in 2008, after being informed that the Army Dental Corps was at a little more than 50% strength. It was a patriotic and adventurous opportunity for him.

The most inspiring benefit for O’Neill has been meeting and treating U.S. service men and women in all branches — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, especially those at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan. He has also volunteered to give a one-hour course on dental emergencies to all the medics and staff at the troop medical clinic (or TMC). His most interesting case, however, was not human. Recently he did an endodontic procedure on the canine… of a canine. The patient, one of the dogs belonging to the Special Forces, was treated successfully in one visit.

“It has been a terrific experience for me in a lot of little ways,” says O’Neill. Not that his service in Afghanistan wasn’t also nerve-wracking at times. “We have not received mortar or rocket attacks here at Camp Phoenix since I’ve been here, [but] some of our sister camps have on occasion.”

O’Neill currently remains in private practice and has a locum tenens dentist, retired from the Navy, covering the practice during his deployment. Future plans include attending the dental school’s annual Alumni Meeting and 30-year Class Reunion in March 2011 in San Francisco. No doubt he will have more interesting tales to tell!

Routine Dental Visit Leads to New Course in Predental Ceramics

By Sharon Mahoud

The introductory ceramics and sculpture classes taught by Visual Arts Professor Trent Burkett are popular general education courses on the Stockton campus. One reason they fill up so fast is they are highly coveted by predental students, who typically make up half of the students in the class. That’s because the Department of Biology encourages predental students to take these courses as a means of building dexterity and skill with hand tools as well as promoting other valuable characteristics such as individual expression and visual literacy.

Fateful Trip to the Dentist

Last year while Burkett was having his biannual cleaning with his dentist, Dr. Lester Low ’86, an alumnus of both Pacific and the Dugoni School of Dentistry, he learned about the Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) that prospective students take as part of a larger Dental Admission Test (DAT) prior to applying to dentistry schools. The PAT assesses a student’s ability to determine angles and shapes through logic and visual perception. For example, a student must determine how a complex geometric object can fit through an aperture.

Impressed by the difficulty of the test, Burkett said a light bulb went on. “I realized I could pattern a course from my existing sculpture and ceramics classes that offered a more in-depth focus on teaching students these skill sets,” he said.

After a relatively rapid approval process that involved meeting with the Department of Biology Co-Chair Gregg Jongeward and members of the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, Burkett was able to offer his new course this past spring: predental ceramics.

Dr. Nader Nadershahi ’94, executive associate dean and associate dean for academic affairs at the dental school, who has done sculpture himself, was very interested in the idea. “The dental school wants its students to be well-rounded,” he said. “Being able to appreciate aesthetics, develop individual expression and articulate well verbally and in writing—all critical qualities a future dentist should possess—are promoted in Professor Burkett’s ceramics classes.”

Predental Ceramics Class Challenges and Inspires

A recent offering of the new predental ceramics class quickly filled during registration with 15 senior predental students, and students have been clamoring for more sessions to be offered. For the 3-unit course, Burkett took elements from his general ceramics classes but tailored the projects for predental students, upping the difficulty level and mostly focusing on small-scale works requiring a high degree of precision.

“I felt that the polishing techniques I learned in the predental ceramics class have followed through to the things I’m learning and doing in the simulation lab at dental school,” said Casey Luu, Class of 2014 and a student in the accelerated 3+3 program (where students spend three years of education on the Stockton campus followed by three years in dental school). “Working on small-scale projects was very helpful, especially working with the curvatures of various objects.”

One assignment required students to carve a perfect one-inch cube in plaster. However, creativity was also encouraged, and the final project called for students to create a “tooth-based” sculptural project—a creative, larger interpretation of teeth built in porcelain and fired in a kiln. These final works were judged and given awards, just like a juried art exhibit. The pieces were also displayed in the Biology Building on the Stockton campus.

“During the undergraduate program, we’re so concentrated on science and that’s not all dentistry is about.”

“Our initial projects, particularly the microsculpture cube, were challenging but worthwhile,” said Brydan Regehr, Class of 2014. “During the course, we had a selection of dental tools to work with, in addition to sculpture tools. The class helped improve my hand-eye skills which have benefitted me as a first-year dental student.”

“The creativity level of the students is impressive, and some show a very strong artistic sense,” said Burkett. “Since predental students have to take so many science classes, it’s exciting to give them a creative outlet and see the outcome.”

The consensus among students was that the course was challenging but rewarding. One of the rewards was a PowerPoint presentation Burkett created for each student showing his or her predental ceramics projects. “The assignments were difficult and demanding,” noted Regehr. “Dr. Burkett pushed us to do our best and helped us gain an appreciation for the art of dentistry.”

Art and Science Connect

Burkett recently revisited the dental school and showed pictures of the projects the students had completed. The faculty, staff, and alumni were impressed. Kathy Candito, associate dean for student services, was very enthusiastic and suggested that Burkett show the student PowerPoint presentations at an upcoming event.

“I am glad that the idea worked and that I can make art relevant to other professional programs,” said Burkett. “This course proves that art can be useful for science and other disciplines.” The interdisciplinary nature of the experience has been rewarding. When Burkett walks over to the Biology Building, all of the predental students know him. “There’s a lot of interdepartmental and interschool collaboration happening at Pacific that people may not be aware of,” he said.

The Future of Predental Ceramics

Burkett hopes to get the predental ceramics class approved as a permanent general education course. His long-term idea is to offer a 3-D certificate to predental students composed of three courses: ceramics (wheel throwing), predental ceramics and his intermediate 3-D studio course.

“During the undergraduate program, we’re so concentrated on science and that’s not all dentistry is about,” said Luu. “The ceramics class opened my perspective and reminded me that dentistry is a combination of science and art.”

Sharon Mahood is an East Bay freelance writer who also writes for the College of the Pacific.

Ai Streacker ’79: Watching for Wow Moments

“I want our students to be people that are sought out, rather than people seeking jobs.”

Department of Restorative Dentistry faculty member Dr. Ai Streacker ’79 has travelled the globe. He’s an avid scuba diver (has been since the age of 13); musician (tuba and guitar); and motorcycle collector (there are four in his garage right now). Indeed, his passions and hobbies have taken him far and wide. But one passion, perhaps the one with the greatest impact, is teaching.

Ai has been a full-time faculty member at the Dugoni School of Dentistry since 2003. With 23 years of private practice under his belt, he decided it was the right time to pursue teaching – something he’d hoped to do since he was an undergraduate.

In addition to clinic instruction, Ai serves as director of the First-Year Restorative Curriculum.  He’s also working with colleagues to fine tune and revise the entire preclinical curriculum, which will ensure Dugoni School students have a solid educational foundation before entering the clinic.

“I want to make sure our preclinical curriculum is fully up-to-date so our students are able to meet the challenges of clinic and a modern day workforce,” said Ai. “Upon graduation, I want our students to be people that are sought out, rather than people seeking jobs.”

As he’s been teaching for nearly a decade now, Ai has realized that the “wow moment” is his favorite part of the job. That wow moment – watching a figurative light bulb go on when students finally grasp a technique, a concept – is very real and happens at the dental school regularly.

“I see students struggle with techniques, but then there will be that one time when you see it click in their minds and they finally get it. From that point forward they have no more problems with that technique,” he said. “That’s what does it for me. I can see it happen and it’s remarkable.”

Ai clearly has strong ties to the Dugoni School of Dentistry. When asked if he thinks there’s anything that sets the Dugoni School apart from other dental schools, he’s quick to comment on the curriculum and the caliber of his colleagues, but he also recalled an incident from when he was applying to dental school back in the 70s.  After a day of interviews at a southern California school, a student approached him and said “If you can go to any other dental school, do it. You don’t want to come here.”  Of course, that’s not likely to happen at Pacific, and when Ai came to interview, students were welcoming and gregarious (much how they are today).

One thing Ai cares deeply about is human health and wellbeing. He’s extremely focused on a healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise. His approach to caring for patients isn’t just to treat their oral health conditions, but to encourage a healthy lifestyle as well. This is also something he makes sure to teach his students – healthy mouths shouldn’t be the only priority of a dental professional. Dentists should try to encourage patients to be healthy in other ways too.

“Aside from practicing good dentistry, helping my patients achieve healthier lifestyles is something I’m very proud of,” he mentioned. “It was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done, and is something I’d love my students to embrace as well.”

Next year, Ai will assume the role of a practice leader under the Main Clinic’s new private practice model. In this role he’ll be able to work more closely with the students in his group, prepare them for life after dental school and hopefully have a lot of wow moments along the way.