You see them in the dental office, fighting the battle against cavities, plaque, and gingivitis, but when Drs. Perry, Thenard, Ngo, and Katheria aren’t busy working on your kids’ teeth, their quest for widespread oral health continues. Each of them teaches at one of two northern California-based dental schools, UCSF or UOP, as a way of giving back and teaching the future of the dental profession.
“We love what we do, and to share that with young budding pediatric dentists keeps us fresh and energized,” Dr. Thenard says. Dr. Thenard has been teaching dental students since 2005 and recently began co-directing a Leadership and Business Management course for pediatric dental residents. “I spend an entire day with the residents each month. It is about 100 hours per school year.”
The doctors’ dedication to teaching is especially important today. According to Dr. Ngo, dental schools are currently facing a problem with faculty recruitment and retention. “There is a huge shortage of teachers in dentistry because lots of the older faculty are retiring and there aren’t any new ones to replace them,” she says.
For the past four years, Dr. Ngo has been a valuable asset to the UCSF teaching community, spending every Monday on the campus guiding pre-doctoral students through hands-on, clinical dentistry. “I naturally fell into this position because there was a vacancy that needed to be filled and I wanted to just help out,” she says.
As a recent grad herself, Dr. Ngo can empathize with the challenge of absorbing the flood of information that dental school requires.
“This gives me the chance to guide them and have them ask questions without fear of embarrassment or intimidation – since I find lots of times, if students are hesitant to ask faculty, then they don’t learn or grasp the concepts as well.”
Time and again, Dr. Ngo’s approachability has paid off in the classroom. “I love when there is an ‘Ah Ha!’ moment. Or when they are able to master a small tip I show them, which I know they will be able to carry into their careers. There are lots of great students that go through the UCSF program,” she says.
Though most of her students are studying to be general dentists or focus on specialties like orthodontics, oral surgery, or endodontics, Dr. Ngo takes the time to explain facets of her own specialty in pediatric dentistry, which requires extra skill and special attention and education for the child as well as the parent.
“I try to instill in them not just basic concepts of treatment and diagnosis, which are fundamentals in dentistry, but also to broaden their perspective to treating the whole patient, that they’re caring not just for decayed teeth, but a child and a lot of times, the whole family, who are involved in maintaining the child’s daily oral health.”
In the process, Dr. Ngo has helped future dentists gain important training on working with kids. “They end up not being so nervous about seeing kids in their office. Some students even end up wanting to specialize in pediatric dentistry after they graduate.”
As with the best teachers, Dr. Ngo finds teaching rewarding for many reasons. “It keeps me up to date with the literature and research that is published. I have to make sure what I’m teaching is evidence-based and standard of care.”
In addition, Dr. Ngo explains that as a major primary healthcare facility, UCSF draws very complicated cases and medically compromised patients needing specialized collaboration from several medical specialties. “Since I don’t see these special patients as often in private practice, I look forward to caring for them here at UC.”