Oral Health Group

A Hybrid’s Perspective on Dentistry

October 1, 2011
by Eric Freeman DDS, MSC.D, DIP. Periodont.

I have had the privilege of teaching at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto for 41 years. I teach Histology, a basic science and Periodontology, a clinical science.

As a practicing periodontist for the last four decades I have been very lucky to have an extramural private practice with wonderful staff and patients. Being both an academic and a practicing periodontist, I suppose, I could call myself a Hybrid.


My tenure at the University of Toronto has been amazing, beyond my wildest expectations. I have had the honour of being associated with many people who have advanced the art and science of modern dentistry. Over the past number of years, I have built wonderful relationships with the late Richard Ten Cate, my mentor who inspired me to pursue an academic career; John Speck, Richard Ellen, Howard Tenenbaum, Malcolm Yasny, Peter Birek, Gordon Thompson, Gurkan Altuna and Bob Turnbull to name a few.

I have conducted basic and clinical research, published and presented research papers nationally and internationally and contributed to five editions of Ten Cate’s Oral Histology text book. But mostly, the University allowed me to foster my greatest passion, teaching.

Over the years I have taught undergraduate histology and periodontology, graduate periodontology and continuing dental education. The enthusiasm of the students I have a encountered kept me “young at heart” and I have been humbled by the awards received from the Dental Student Society at the University of Toronto.

Road shows for the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, presentations to various places or lectures given by satellite, were rewarded by appreciation and hospitality of my fellow dentists.

Clinical full-time dental faculty at the University of Toronto allows one-day-a-week extra-mural private practice. Realizing that a real world practice experience cannot be gained or sustained for that matter by one-day a week practice I have decided, from the beginning, to extend it to a two-days-a-week practice. Obviously, this decision impacted on my life a great deal with consequences both on the positive and negative side of the “life’s balance sheet”. Was it worth it? Would I choose the life of a Hybrid again? I have been very lucky to have the support of my wife, Ferne, who has always encouraged my career path and we have raised and been blessed with three wonderful and very successful children. And so at this time of reflection my response is a clear YES. Hybrids, in the automotive industry are considered transitional technology towards solving our dependence on fossil fuel and their impact on our planet. Perhaps, a Hybrid academic/clinician will prove to be a mere signpost in the development of academia. Only time will tell.

I have employed an evidence-based approach to my private practice and have culled the excellent long term studies of Hirschfield and Wasserman, Ramfjord, McFall, and others as my standard of care. I cannot find a better way to prepare one for teaching then the invaluable experience gained in the “real” dental world.

The Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto is undergoing major changes in its undergraduate curriculum to insure that on graduation, dentists will possess the necessary skill set to meet the challenges of the new economy. This Hybrid retires humbled by the priviledge of being part of this effort.

Readers of this editorial and, in particular dentists early in their careers, would be wise to consider the excitement of an academic dentistry as a career path. It is my perception that, for some time to come, Hybrids will play a well-needed role in the 21st century.

I have pitched a strong seven innings at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto. However, a good actor has to know when it is time to get off the stage.

When a first year student informs you that you taught his father, you know that it’s time.

And so at the end of this year, after 41 years, this Hybrid will retire from The Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto but continue to provide care to his patients for years to come. Who knows, I may consider driving a hybrid car to my office and to continuing educational lectures with a corresponding vanity plate.

Carpe diem.  OH

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