An entrepreneurial team of Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) students is working on a concept that aims to enhance the way dental students learn. Their idea has already attracted the attention of several Harvard startup initiatives and earned them a spot as semi-finalists in the 2020 President’s Innovation Challenge, a University-wide venture capital competition.
“Today’s students use YouTube and Google for everything. We realized we could make dentistry more applicable to the modern learner. We saw a need for our generation to have access to modern videos and technology, while learning and developing their clinical skills in dental school,” Leela Breitman, DMD21, said.
Breitman, along with teammates Jennifer Lee, DMD21, Emily Van Doren, DMD22, Karen He DMD21, and Alice Li, DMD23, recognized their HSDM classmates and peers from other dental schools were often going to YouTube to brush up on dental procedures they learned in class.
However, YouTube videos made by professional dentists aren’t usually at the student’s skill level, nor are they academically verified as an educational resource. That’s how the concept of “My Dental Key” came about. The team envisions My Dental Key as an online platform that will compliment classroom instruction by providing student-focused video demonstrations, illustrations, and step-by-step, best-practice instructions for basic dental procedures.
“We learn dental procedures in lecture and practice in the preclinical lab, but when you’re faced with performing the procedure on a patient three or four months later, this tool will be a great reference to look back to,” Lee said.
The team enlisted faculty mentors Drs. Supattriya Chutinan, instructor in Restorative Dentistry and Biomaterials Sciences, and Hiroe Ohyama, assistant professor of Restorative Dentistry and Biomaterials Sciences and director of Predoctoral Operative Dentistry, to help advise them along the way.
“We’re building our videos and platform from the student perspective, and everything is verified by our faculty to ensure clinical accuracy,” said Breitman, whose background in art has been useful in creating medical illustrations for the videos.
Each member of the team brings different expertise and perspectives from their various class years.
“We’re trying to make the videos very relevant, modern, and concise for new learners,” added second-year student Emily Van Doren. She and first-year student Alice Li are currently learning some of the concepts in class that will be in the videos, so they provide valuable feedback in real time as they learn the new concepts.
"The first time I learned about the idea of using the web-based teaching tool in the dental curriculum, I was immediately impressed by this innovation. These students have been working very hard and are so creative,” said faculty mentor Supattriya Chutinan. “Their invention could be one of the most innovative educational technologies to enhance student learning in the dental curriculum."
The team is currently working on preclinical operative videos with amalgam and composite procedures that are applicable to early-stage learners. They plan to tackle restorative preclinical procedures next.
“Dentistry is a field that is changing constantly. With My Dental Key, we can provide up to date information in an easily accessible way,” said Karen He.
In January, the team entered Harvard University’s 2020 President’s Innovation Challenge to compete with student startups across the University and they were invited to pitch their idea at the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab).
“While the other teams were in suits, we were the only team that showed up in scrubs because we are always running out of the door of the clinic to get to the i-lab in Allston. ‘You must be the dental students’ people said, so scrubs have kind of become our trademark,” said Breitman.
My Dental Key was chosen as a semi-finalist within the i-lab Life Science Track and the team is now part of an intense incubator program designed to accelerate the progress of their venture and prepare them to compete for the Grand Prize of $75,000 in May. They recently participated in a mentor matchmaking event and connected with a mentor with a background in management consulting who will advise them on business strategies.
The experience has been time-consuming for the students as they juggle class and clinic, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of us want to be educators so this is our way to make our mark on dental education. We’re learning a lot in the process of making this,” said Lee.
“As a student I often feel I’m going through the curriculum as a passive receiver of information, so this project has been an amazing opportunity to be on the other side of it and to help improve something I’m a part of,” said He.
Ultimately, the students have high hopes that the project will serve as a means of standardizing and democratizing dental education globally.
“I am so proud of the students and their accomplishments,” said faculty mentor Hiroe Ohyama. “My Dental Key is a unique concept and I’m excited to see its potential to teach dental students not only at HSDM, but also nationally and globally.”