“Are you in dental or medical school?”
Three people asked me this question today, and three times I began with the simple reply, “Yes.”
Thus far at Harvard, I have been studying with the medical school. I have been taking medical classes focused on systemic physiology and disease. I have been seeing hospital patients with chief complaints ranging from cirrhosis of the liver to colon cancer. I have dawned a white coat and stethoscope as I entered Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and I have learned the basics of a musculoskeletal examination on notably all of the joints except the temporomandibular joint.
Finally, wearing scrubs and a gown, I carried that same stethoscope into a dental clinic, and the feeling was unbelievable. Being in a dental office, I felt at home. I interacted with patients, did a role-playing intake interview, and explored the Axium computer system. I witnessed an assessment of the temporomandibular joint and learned about the oral manifestations of sinus pressure. Everything around me was so enthusing, grounding me in my passion for dentistry.
Unexpectedly, this experience also enhanced my appreciation for the curriculum at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Yes, we are effectively in medical school at the present. Yes, we are learning maneuvers to assess bowel function and spleen abnormalities. Yet, we are doing this to become better providers of oral health care. We are doing this because of the integral intersections between oral and systemic health, the intersections I witnessed today in a review of a diabetic’s and a recovering addict’s chart. While many dentists learn to care for oral health, we at Harvard School of Dental Medicine are learning to treat our patient’s overall health and are thereby leading the dental field in a direction of medical integration that I so poignantly experienced today.
So yes, we began the day jokingly referring to ourselves as confused dentists, imposter physicians, and dental students with an identity crisis. However, we ended the day with heightened appreciation for the value of treating patients not as their dentists but as their oral physicians.
(Originally published in September 2016 as part of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine newsletter.)
© 2016 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.