Global Health Nexus, Summer 2002

The Japanese and Chinese Nexus

By Andrew I. Spielman, D.M.D., Ph.D., 
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Every time I glance at the faces of NYU dental students, I am reminded that NYU Dentistry really is the most global dental school on earth. And it is global from so many perspectives: Our students come from all across the United States and nearly 50 foreign countries; every national student dental organization is represented here; and more than two dozen languages are spoken.

For NYU Dentistry such diversity signals an obligation: to fulfill our potential to become the dental institution in the world with the greatest impact on the health of society. One way in which we are making a global impact is through international faculty visits and exchange programs. Last year I was personally involved in two such visits after receiving invitations to travel to Japan and China to organize a symposium, present two seminars, and visit two dental schools (Tokyo Dental College and Second Medical University in Shanghai). My trips partly coincided with the annual meeting of the International Association of Dental Research (IADR) held in Chiba, Japan.


As president of the American Association of Oral Biologists, I was responsible for working with my Japanese counterpart to organize a symposium to highlight a growing trend in the field with broad implications for oral health; namely, tissue engineering of oral tissues. In addition to myself, NYU Dentistry was represented at the symposium by Associate Dean for Research Louis Terracio, a leading authority on muscle tissue engineering. Dr. Terracio wowed the audience by recounting how former astronaut and senator John Glenn used the weightlessness of the Space Shuttle during his final space mission to perform an experiment designed by Dr. Terracio to grow bioengineered muscles. His presentation also demonstrated NYU Dentistry’s leadership in the field of bioengineered muscle.

We were pleasantly surprised and flattered when one of the Japanese organizers of the symposium, Dr. Yoshinori Kuboki, a professor emeritus at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, requested permission to translate an entire issue of Global Health Nexus into Japanese and publish it in the Japanese Dental Journal. We realized that not only is Global Health Nexus a multiple award-winning magazine in the United States; it also serves as a model for other dental school publications around the world. In Latin, one definition of nexus is “bond,” and it is in bonding together dental institutions across the globe that Global Health Nexus is helping to advance NYU Dentistry’s international mission.

During my last day in Tokyo I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo Dental College. My host, Professor Kiyoshi Minaguchi, whom I had known from my graduate days in Toronto, chairs the Department of Forensic Dentistry, one of 22 departments at Tokyo Dental College. In contrast to U.S. dentists, who pursue four years of college followed by four years in dental school, Japanese dentists arrive straight from high school to pursue six years of dental study. The first three years comprise traditional basic science courses. Patient contact, under strict faculty supervision, occurs only during the last one and a half semesters of the program. Moreover, with 74,000 dentists, a higher per capita ratio than in the U.S., Japan has a glut of private practitioners. Hence, the lure of teaching and a consequent oversupply of qualified faculty.


My visit to Shanghai Second Medical University, hosted by Professor Lee Chou of Boston University, revealed an opposite trend: a shortage of faculty members and practitioners in a country emerging as a global economic superpower. China graduates approximately 2,000 dentists annually, a fraction of the number needed in the world’s most populous nation. The reason is that Chinese universities, which rely heavily on government subsidies, offer admission only to students with top-tier academic credentials, many of whom go on to further their education in the U.S., including at NYU, which leads to a cross-fertilization of Eastern and Western knowledge and techniques.

Another opportunity for global impact arises from the potential to develop student exchange programs. Chinese dental schools have huge patient populations, and see many disorders much more frequently than in the U.S. Oral cancer is an example of a condition with a much higher incidence among the heavily smoking Chinese population who lack early diagnosis and treatment, along with awareness of the disease and how to prevent it. The dental component of Shanghai Second Medical University has its own hospital, including a 100-bed department to perform oral and maxillofacial surgery. If an exchange program could be developed to bring more Chinese students to study at NYU Dentistry and allow NYU Dentistry students to study difficult surgical cases in Shanghai, there could be major benefits for both societies.

Overall, I was extremely impressed by the strong desire for continuing study that the Chinese dental education system inspires, by the hospitality shown to me personally, and by the prospect of developing exchange programs with the potential to foster the sharing of expertise and resources among academic dental centers worldwide.