The country’s only dental school is a ”a bit shy” about showing off its expertise, but that will change, its new British dean says.
Paul Brunton (54), who started this month as dean of the University of Otago’s faculty of dentistry, said dental schools took a more prominent role in the health sector in England.
”I want us to be a school for the country, and a school that has more of an external face.
”I’m not saying we don’t have an external face, but I’d like to increase it.”
The school could be an advocate for oral health by liaising with other dental organisations, dentists and the wider health sector.
”I think it’s been a bit shy at telling people how good it is.”
”It is a very good dental school.”
While lifting its profile nationally and internationally, he will lead the school through the ”big period of change” involved in building a replacement dental school.
Despite the possibility of a longer wait, because of changes to the university’s building programme schedule, he hopes building work will start this year.
The university was considering the timing, and planning and costing work had begun.
Dentists were no longer just ”tooth-fixers”, and training had to reflect that.
People were living longer, and keeping their teeth.
”We’re keeping our teeth for life, which wasn’t the norm years ago.
”Teeth wear out now instead of falling out.”
Dentistry had to keep abreast of new treatment and prevention techniques, and treating patients with dementia, and elderly people with dry mouths from medication.
Despite the changes, the old messages still applied: clean teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, eat a good diet, and get regular check-ups, he said.
Diet was an area in which dentists had become more knowledgeable, and it was an exciting area of research.
This included links between gum disease and illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.
His own research interest was clinical, meaning he had been involved in taking experimental treatments from the lab and trying them on patients.
He wanted to encourage more clinical research at the Dunedin school, which at present focused on laboratory, basic science, and epidemiological research.
He hoped to be personally involved in the research, which would allow him to practise his clinical skills.
On fluoride, likely to be the most contentious matter the dental school engages with publicly, Prof Brunton is a firm supporter, but has sympathy for people who feel it is imposed against their will.
”A very difficult issue”, fluoride was safe, effective, and not too costly.
”I completely support it, but I understand why people have objections to it.”
The fluoride debate should be informed by science and research, he said.
In his former role, Prof Brunton was head of restorative dentistry and director of student education at the University of Leeds.
Prof Brunton, who was raised in Cheshire, said the ”only sadness” he felt on leaving England was giving up a season ticket for Manchester United, which caused ”a tear in my eye”.