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Data science and digital health shape the future of dental education

15 November 2019
Big data’s greatest asset is its possibilities
Professor Heiko Spallek is combining his experience in dental education and research with his expertise in computer and information science to bring dentistry and healthcare into the digital age.

The changing landscape

In recent years dentistry as a field has been making major strides in harnessing new technologies to improve dental materials and techniques, but with respect to recording and harnessing health information, its arguably one of the least digitally enabled parts of the health system.

In other areas of healthcare, big data is already helping to provide digital health solutions to advance medical and pharmaceutical innovation, reduce wastage, improve efficiencies in healthcare delivery and prioritise preventative health interventions.

"Dentistry is a bit further behind but heading in the same direction", says Professor Heiko Spallek, Head of School and Dean at Sydney Dental School.

Data science and digital health applications have the potential to make a huge impact on how we predict, prevent and treat dental problems.
Professor Heiko Spallek

Digital imaging, CAD/CAM restorations and orthodontic appliances, like Invisalign are just starting to scratch the surface of possibility for dentistry, but there are many more applications on the horizon that will transform the way the dental care is provided to patients today.

Professor Heiko Spallek

Professor Spallek works closely in promoting dentistry as a cross-health profession and harnessing data to shift healthcare from a focus on diagnosis and treatment to prevention and early intervention.

The future of dental education

As the recently appointed Academic Lead in Digital Health and Health Service Informatics for the Faculty of Medicine and Health, Professor Spallek is committed to preparing dental graduates for the future of work by ensuring that digital health education and training is embedded in all health programs.

"Anatomy and physiology have been the staple of dental education at all levels for centuries; digital health and data science are the modern equivalent – one cannot practice today without them”, he explains.

"To bring dentistry into the digital age, it has become an educational imperative that we also prepare dental professionals who can work with and learn from various health data", says Professor Spallek. The University of Sydney is committed to leading this change by:

  • Ensuring that the dental curriculum is being continually improved and updated to reflect advances in dental science;
  • Investing in new technology-rich education and research facilities to facilitate multidisciplinary learning;
  • Preparing our undergraduate students, in collaboration with other faculties such as science, with the foundational knowledge in data science and digital health that is essential for entry into the graduate dental program;
  • Rapidly developing an educational program that equips our current students with data science and digital health knowledge with equal weight as anatomy and physiology;
  • Developing multiple professional pathways in dentistry (and all of health) that lead to specialisation in health data science and digital health at various levels, from undergraduate to PhD level.
"We are very excited to play our part by educating the next generation of practitioners with knowledge in data science and digital health", says Professor Heiko Spallek.

The University of Sydney is one of Australia’s leading providers of dental education, offering a range of undergraduate, postgraduate, specialist and short course study options in dentistry and oral health. To find out more visit sydney.edu.au/dentistry.

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