Thinking of the future – the Faculty of Dental Surgery and responding to COVID-19

Matthew Garrett has recently taken office as the new dean at the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons of EnglandMatthew Garrett has recently taken office as the new dean at the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

He was elected to the role by the faculty board in October 2019, and will serve a three year term to 2023. Here, he talks about what his key priorities will be – both during and after COVID-19.

What is your previous experience and do you have any key interests?

My dental career began in 2001 when I qualified from Bristol Dental School. I have occupied many dental positions and roles becoming a consultant in 2010. Currently, I am a consultant in restorative dentistry at the Eastman Dental Hospital, part of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

My main clinical and research interests lie in the rehabilitation of patients who have developmental or acquired dental defects. In particular, these are patients with developmentally missing teeth and those with enamel and dentine defects. It also includes patients who require oral rehabilitation following treatment for head and neck cancers.

I have also served as the president of the British Society for Restorative Dentistry between 2017 – 2018.

FDS did a large piece of work on children’s oral health. Will you be continuing this work?

Yes absolutely. For instance, the most frequent reason for a child to be admitted to hospital is for dental extractions due to dental caries. This is an entirely preventable disease, urgently in need of addressing. Perhaps it is significant that my first meeting as dean was at the Children’s Oral Improvement Board. We looked at dietary and dental aspects of oral health.

What work will FDS be doing for dental care for adults?

The faculty has already been doing a lot of work in this area. We are looking at the availability and access to dental care for adults. Additionally, we are looking at the kind of workforce required to treat the adult population. Many adults have a heavily restored dentition. This can present problems. Once restorations fail, patients frequently require complex treatment.

This necessitates skilled dentists capable of delivering appropriate care – such as endodontic treatment, the provision and maintenance of dental implants, and treatment of periodontal disease. The previous dean published a policy paper on adult oral health, which we need to build on and develop further.

What will you be focusing on over the next three years?

Over the next three years, I would like the faculty to give special attention to how vulnerable groups in society can access dental care. This includes people in care homes, the homeless, prisoners and those who have been affected by COVID-19. This will involve examining and considering what impact the lack of, or inaccessibility to oral care, has on such issues as healthcare and inequalities. To achieve this we will need to work with other royal colleges.

Finally, one issue that is close to my heart is making the public aware of the differences and contradictions between aesthetic dentistry and health needs. Patients are not always aware of the long-term adverse consequences of aesthetic dentistry. This is potentially something that we could look at in the future.

How will you engage your members and fellows in the work you do?

As I said in my dean’s inaugural message, I believe strongly that a collegiate spirit where everyone in the faculty learns from and helps each other is crucial for the well-being of our faculty and profession. It is vital, especially in these unprecedented times, to hear what our members and fellows need from the us. Already in response to the membership’s needs we have carried out some key policy initiatives. This was to help members navigate a new way of practising. This includes recommendations for the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage a consistent approach to the provision of dental care during the recovery phase.

However, I am aware that we need to explore what are the most effective means of consulting with and engaging the membership. And, in particular, how we can use social media to that end.

What changes do you hope to put in place during and after COVID-19?

One of the many things the previous dean did extremely well was his strong engagement with major external stakeholders. We have a seat at many of the important meetings and are often the only dental faculty in these forums. This gives me access to stakeholders where the profile of dentistry in the UK can be raised. And the concerns and ambitions of our profession can be voiced.

One of my key interests is in medical education, especially from an assessment perspective. Before I became dean of the FDS, I was chair of the Membership Examination of the Joint Dental Faculties [MJDF]. It is imperative we continue to engage with our members and fellows. This is to get input and feedback on how we can make sure assessments continue to be relevant to the profession’s practices, achieve professional standards and are fit for purpose.

I believe we can make our FDS courses more accessible by, for instance, thinking about introducing more blended-learning courses. Delegates don’t have to come to the college. This is particularly timely as we are seeing more online courses due to COVID-19. Work is already starting in this area. In early July, we are putting together a webinar series on emerging techniques for all fellows and members. This will cover all dental specialities.

One of our strengths is that we have members and fellows all over the world. Our international membership base will continue to be important to us. COVID-19 has made us think about doing things differently. For example, how examinations might be done remotely. Blended learning modules will be of interest to our international audiences.

We should take advantage of the lessons we have learned during this pandemic. We should consider urgently how we can apply them to support a modern workforce in dentistry.

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