Global Health Nexus, Spring 1999

Message from the Dean

Michael C. Alfano, DMD, PhD
New York University College of Dentistry  

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Global Health NEXUS, a publication devoted to communicating the accomplishments, philosophy, vision, and plans for the new millennium of New York University College of Dentistry NYU Dentistry.

L. Jay Oliva, president of New York University, has said that it is NYU's vision to open the 21st century as the quintessential global university. NYU Dentistry embraces the vision of its parent university and is wholly committed to the proposition that the intellectual and professional life stretches beyond the academy into the outside world and leaps across international borders. This philosophy has been a fundamental part of NYU Dentistry's mission and goals since its founding in 1865. More recently, NYU Dentistry has become a nexus between New York City and the international dental community, welcoming dentists from around the world to the world's greatest city, the world's intellectual and cultural capital -- hence the name Global Health NEXUS.

NYU Dentistry's Vision for the New Millennium

I believe it is NYU Dentistry's destiny to become the dental institution in the world with the greatest impact on the health of society. And it is no accident that I speak of health rather than oral health. As evidence mounts on the biological links between dental disease and systemic health, I am convinced that we need to speak in terms of health -- and not just oral health -- if we are to have a vision that properly articulates what our goal is to be in the future.

This vision is possible because of who we are. Like all fine schools, we are dedicated to continually improving the quality of our programs. Another factor shared by top dental schools is the search for innovation, and NYU Dentistry has certainly demonstrated a commitment to innovation. Innovation includes not only having the first Department of Endodontics in the nation, the first Department of Pediatric Dentistry, and the first family practice program, but also the first official Department of Implant Dentistry as well as the first professorship in implant dentistry.  

But we have two additional dimensions that do not exist at other leading dental schools. One is size. Although we expect to get somewhat smaller in the future, we will still be the largest dental college in the United States. Ultimately, our size will be part of our strength because of the large number of people we influence. The other dimension is our extraordinary outreach. We boast a level of national and international diversity and inclusiveness unmatched by any other dental school. Our students come from everywhere, making NYU Dentistry truly global from so many perspectives. And thanks to our location in New York City, our patient population is a microcosm of the world. When we multiply these four variables: quality x innovation x size x outreach, it equals impact. That equation, I believe, is the key to our future, and to securing New York University College of Dentistry's claim as the dental institution with the greatest impact on the health of society. Let me take the concept of "impact" even further. As the first expression of our vision for the future, NYU Dentistry has launched the Initiative to Mobilize Patient Advocacy, Concern, and Treatment (IMPACT). The initial focus of IMPACT is to inform and educate the American public regarding the risk factors for oral cancer and the benefits of early detection and to encourage dentists to build an oral cancer examination into their dental examination regimens. Ultimately, the project will make NYU Dentistry a national center for consumer information, education, and research into the causes and prevention of oral cancer.

The Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health

An upcoming event that adds particular resonance to our quest is the first ever, comprehensive Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health, which is expected to appear in late 1999. It is predicted that the report will focus considerable public attention on oral cancer, a disease that kills over 8,000 people annually in the United States, making it more deadly than either cervical cancer or melanoma.

Despite research indicating that early detection is key to reducing mortality, a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicates that fewer than seven percent of Americans report having an oral cancer examination each year, and less than 15 percent have ever had an oral cancer exam in their lives. In light of the interest that will be generated as this topic receives more media attention, patients will be more aware of this disease and of the need for early detection. To keep College of Dentistry alumni ahead of the curve in dealing with rising public awareness, I recently sent to all alumni -- over 10,000 dentists -- a guide published by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), which reviews the steps in a standardized oral cancer examination and helps the practitioner refresh the techniques necessary to ensure optimum patient health. In April and May, the OKU Honor Society of the College hosted three hours of hands-on, continuing education courses that were free to all alumni. We have also developed an alumni Web site on oral cancer ( and hosted a regional oral cancer screening event in early June.

Oral Cancer Detection: Practicing for Life

Grounded in the belief that the study and discussion of oral cancer is one of the most challenging, compelling, and rewarding aspects of being a dentist today, and one that can only enhance our relationship with colleagues and the public, we open our premier issue of Global Health NEXUS with essays on ethical issues involved in oral cancer examinations and on cutting-edge research into the possible genetic factors in oral cancer. Two faculty members have contributed essays in this area: Dr. Milton Palat ("Oral Cancer Detection: Practicing for Life") and Dr. Joseph B. Guttenplan ("Genes, Mutations, and Cancer: Possible Applications to the Prevention of Cancer of the Oral Cavity").

In addition to introducing NYU Dentistry's vision for the future, Global Health NEXUS also aims to be a means of bringing together all of us with a stake in the future of the College of Dentistry - alumni, faculty, students, staff, and friends -- and to provide a focus for our common interests, opinions, and concerns.

I am very eager to know what you think of Global Health NEXUS and to include your views in future issues. Please feel free to use the enclosed envelope to send me your comments.

I look forward to hearing from you!