Two years ago, before COVID-19 upended in-person learning, a team of five Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) DMD students had the idea of creating “My Dental Key”— an online platform with step-by-step video tutorials of dental procedures to supplement clinical and classroom learning. After launching the platform with 30 instructional videos in November 2020, My Dental Key has quickly amassed over 3,000 users and 350 active subscribers from around the globe, and is gaining the attention of a growing number of dental students and educators.
“Online teaching is here to stay,” said fourth-year dental student Karen He, My Dental Key’s chief financial officer. “In light of COVID, schools have realized how important it is to have robust online resources to introduce dental students to clinical dentistry.”
Traditional dental education takes place in the classroom, preclinical lab, and clinic; however, the team found that over 80 percent of the 700 U.S. dental students they surveyed used YouTube to review dental preparations and procedures. They identified an opportunity to create instructional videos from a student perspective with content verified by dental educators to ensure accuracy.
After long days in dental school, the team spent nights sketching illustrations of procedures and dabbling with video recordings to hone their production skills. Two of the management team members, Leela Breitman, DMD21, and Alice Li, DMD23, have backgrounds in art and medical illustration. The other founders, Jennifer Lee, DMD21, Karen He, DMD21, and Emily Van Doren, DMD22, have experience in education, investment banking, fundraising, research, and web design.
The team built a prototype of the My Dental Key platform with funding and support from the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). More recently, the team received additional grant funding from the Harvard Undergraduate Capital Partners Innovation Fund, a HILT Launch Pad Operation Impact 2020 Grand Prize, the Dr. Edward B. Shils Entrepreneurial Fund, and a Harvard Innovation Labs Spark Grant.
This year, they will be competing for a second time in Harvard’s President’s Innovation Challenge in the high-tech business-to-business track. They were recently chosen as one of 121 semi-finalists out of more than 420 contenders.
“We have made so much progress since last year’s PIC competition,” Breitman said. “This past year, we have accrued so much momentum. We’re so proud of our progress and are excited to grow alongside the other incredible teams in the PIC.”
They credit business and academic mentors and other collaborators who encouraged them along the way. During the pandemic, the team also took advantage of the ubiquity of Zoom to break down geographic barriers and collaborate with students from other dental schools including Tufts University and the University of Maryland.
“Being able to work with students and faculty at other schools has been the key to growing our platform,” Jennifer Lee, My Dental Key chief operating officer, said. “It’s helped to increase and diversify the content we offer.”
During the last year, the team members also published two manuscripts in the Journal of Dental Education related to online dental education, ran a pilot of their platform at Harvard, and have been invited to present at ADEA’s annual national meeting on the topic of online dental education and the utility of their platform during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team monitors traffic to the website from all over the world. Currently, some content on the site is available for free, and some is subscription-based. Their goal is to continue to grow the number of subscribers and attract dental schools to the platform.
“We have over 350 subscribers to our website. These are people we can reach out to and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback that way,” said Emily Van Doren, My Dental Key chief information officer.
As part of their mission to democratize dental education, they plan to offer free subscriptions to students in developing countries.
“My Dental Key is a resource that dental students worldwide want and need,” said Alice Li, My Dental Key chief marketing officer.
Three of the founding team members will graduate from HSDM this year and go on to residencies across the country. Lee will go into pediatric dentistry, Breitman into prosthodontics, and He into oral surgery. Despite being physically apart, they expect to continue to keep growing the platform at a rapid pace.
“When we are no longer students ourselves, we want to keep involving students in growing My Dental Key. They are really fundamental to our model,” said Breitman. “This content is truly built by students, for students.”