“Oral hygiene was satisfactory.”
This report is made on the medical ward routinely when a student comments on his findings on a three second infra-oral examination. It is quickly followed with a comment on hydration, cyanosis or absence of, and the rest of the exam proceeds.

Have you been looking for something and after finding it you realised you must’ve only glossed over the same spot you eventually made the find in? That’s exactly how it looks when an examiner looks into the mouth and only comments on cyanosis and hydration.

The maintenance of oral health is perhaps the primary responsibility of the dentist, who could be described as an oral health physician. The significance of oral health cannot be overemphasised and it’s in view of this that dental students take a course on Oral Medicine, after having done a whole year of Medicine and Surgery. For a school that only recently ceased to be called School of Medicine and Dentistry, it appears things were a bit skewed, at least from the dentistry point of view.

The focus of this piece is to sample medical students understanding of dentistry; as a specialty, as an aspect of health and their knowledge of dentistry beyond ‘Oh they will extract your teeth.”

Being a dental student, you find yourself on the end of some pretty unsavoury jokes from medical students, who often display their ignorance on all matters relating to dentistry. While this could be excused, my concern stems from the fact that this problem might have been caused from how our curriculum is designed, or perhaps is it our general disposition when it comes to teeth? Only a few lectures, three to four on average are delivered to the combined medical class in fourth year.

Dentistry is often considered a second class course, as most people live with the illusion that dental students couldn’t make the cut for medical school.

We interviewed a few medical students from all levels and tried to get their thoughts on dentistry as a profession and what procedures they are aware of besides extractions. We also found out what their oral health seeking habits are.  

The results of the study are discussed below, with some possible explanations.

The form was open to all students; medical and dental. As is reflected in the normal class distribution, most of the respondents were medical students.

Figure 1
Showing the distribution of Respondents in the study. There was a fine balance of respondents, almost half on either side of the years.

Figure 2

Shows the distribution according to year of study.

Figure 3

Shows how many respondents know where to find the dental school.
It is satisfying to know that nine-in-ten people know where to find the Dental School.

Figure 4

Respondents’ perceived knowledge of Dentistry. Although subjective, the average level of knowledge of dentistry was 5.26. This falls short of what the school’s valuation of what a pass is.

Figure 5

What respondents think of more dentistry lectures to medical students. It was good to know that students think more lectures should be given from the dental faculty to medical students.

Figure 6

Percentage of Dental student that are interested in reading medicine instead. Proof that dental students are largely content and comfortable with their choice.

Figure 7
Proportion of respondents that would recommend dentistry. If you have ever listened to students complain, you would think nobody would advise someone they knew to read dentistry. But res ipsa loquitu.

8Toohtbrushing frequency of students on campus.
This part opens the door for a little bit of advice, brush at least twice a day, people. A toothbrush and a toothpaste but most importantly, use the right toothbrush (soft to medium hardness) and preferably use fluoridated toothpaste.
Another word of caution, brushing is not an extreme sport; If you’re brushing too hard, you’re probably doing it wrong!

In summary, this first study has established that students’ attitudes to dentistry are not bad. There is still room for improvement on the part of both medical and dental students. The two fields co-exist mutually and our shared learning experience should benefit each other. Perhaps more than two lectures can be given to the medical class in a year.

Most people knew about the various specialties, a fact that is heart-warming. It is my hope that medical students’ understanding of dentistry expands beyond extractions and teeth whitening procedures.

Article By: Francis Henry Eshun, Class of 2020. (Editor-in-Chief,  Editorial Board 2019/2020.)