‘Quarterbacks of dentistry’ now in training at Penn
With 178 million Americans missing at least one tooth, and 35 million missing all of their teeth, there is a great need for the work of prosthodontists, dentists who provide specialized care to replace missing or damaged teeth, or other structures in and around the mouth. Yet Pennsylvania has never before had a training ground for prosthodontics—one of the nine specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.
Now, for the first time, dentists will be able to pursue an advanced education in prosthodontics at Penn. This week, four residents are beginning a three-year program, working under Eva Anadioti, the founding director of the School of Dental Medicine’s Advanced Prosthodontics Program and a clinical assistant professor of restorative dentistry at Penn Dental.
“Prosthodontics is a compound word, it comes from prosthesis—an artificial device used to replace something that’s missing—and odontology—the study of the teeth and surrounding tissues,” says Anadioti. “So we literally add what’s missing.”
These “additions” could range from crowns or bridges to fit over existing teeth, implants to replace missing teeth, or more complex structures to restore maxillofacial form and function after a major surgery, such as resecting an oral cancer tumor.
Anadioti, who trained in prosthodontics and related fields during a residency and master’s degree at the University of Iowa and a subsequent surgical fellowship at the University of North Carolina, had been working at Boston University when she was recruited to Penn Dental two years ago to help the school launch its prosthodontics program. After completing a 400-page application and a yearlong review process, the program received initial accreditation this past February.
“Now that all the traditional dental specialties will be represented through our education programs, we can truly be full service in terms of clinical care and cater to all the different patient needs,” says Markus Blatz, professor and chair of the Department of Preventive and Restorative Sciences, who advocated for an accredited prosthodontics program at Penn Dental.
Anadioti says that although the field is one of the lesser known dental specialties, it is a crucial one for many patients, from stressed-out professionals who grind their teeth, to trauma victims who break one or more teeth, to elderly individuals who still desire something more than dentures, to individuals with anorexia or bulimia who have acid-damaged teeth.
“Prosthodontists are often called the quarterbacks of dentistry, because we plan how the patient is going to look at the end before the treatment begins,” she says. “In order to reach that, we may work with other dental specialists like oral surgeons or orthodontists and even plastic surgeons, who need us in order to know the result they’re aiming for before they act.”
To do so, prosthodontists rely on cutting-edge digital technology to visualize oral structures and plan interventions. For example, while prosthodontists previously had to take molds of teeth in order to design a replacement structure, they now use intraoral scanners. The images can be shown to patients—and students—on a screen instantaneously. Prosthodontists can use these images to design the final prosthesis, all the while also enabling trainees to more easily see what work needs to be done.
“Digital dentistry is changing the field so rapidly, from the doctor’s side, from the student’s side, and from the patient’s side,” Anadioti says.
Anadioti is looking forward to offering new expertise to Penn’s students—both the residents as well as the predoctoral DMD students—and to patients. She’s also pushing the field forward through research, including a project working with the School of Engineering and Applied Science to examine the potential of using 3-D printed structures instead of traditionally milled prostheses, and working with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center to offer services to patients while providing training to the residents.
“This new service will be a huge benefit to Philadelphia and to Pennsylvania,” she says. “There are a lot of people out there who need our services.”
To find out more about prosthodontics, visit the Penn Dental Medicine patient care website.