The Knowledge Paradox

by Mark Lin, BSc, DDS, MSc (Prosthodontics), FRCD(C)

It was once said by Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Hence, throughout history, we as human beings all continually strive to research and acquire knowledge. Likewise in dentistry, scientists and researchers at universities will perform bench top experiments, followed by animal studies, which then lead to human patient trials. Corporations may financially support such research and bring the services and products to the market to acquire profit.

With COVID-19 travel restrictions recently being lifted, I had an opportunity to travel to Europe this past summer to learn from a few expert mentors on continuing education courses. These courses had been postponed for the last several years due to the global pandemic.

To my shock and disbelief, these clinicians were demonstrating procedures that are in absolute contradiction to what we have been taught here in North America. They demonstrated the ability to augment bone grafting in the vertical dimension and to regenerate soft tissue papillae around dental implants. In another course, the instructor was showing osteotomy preparation without the use of copious saline to cool and irrigate the bone site and using a slow drilling protocol. To scientifically support their protocols, these clinicians are well researched and published in peer review journals. These are just a few examples of protocols that contrast with what we have been taught and told to perform.

Upon completion of these courses, I have been reflecting on the knowledge gained compared to what I have been doing for the past 30 years. I found myself feeling perplexed and confused, even more so on what to recommend to my patients. Do I stick to what I’ve been doing with relatively successful clinical outcomes and ignore what I’ve learned at these courses? Do I attempt to apply the newly gained knowledge and try these new techniques and protocols on my patients? Should I mix my current techniques and new techniques on selected cases to validate the outcomes first? Here lies the knowledge paradox – the more we learn, the more we find out how little we know and that we need to gain additional knowledge to expand our comfort zones.

Einstein also stated, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.”

To conclude, I would like to share one of my favourite quotes from Bruce Lee, martial artist and philosopher: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” We must embrace the idea that we should be open minded to learn from others, if they have scientific validation. Application of such newly gained knowledge is now up to each clinician to confirm. Therefore, this is not so much a “knowledge paradox” but rather a “knowledge process.”

About the Editor

Mark Lin, graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy for his dental program. He then completed a one-year General Practice Residency program at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He practiced general dentistry for 13 years and then returned to complete his post-graduate training in the specialty of prosthodontics at the University of Toronto. He maintains a full-time specialty practice as a prosthodontist at Dr. Mark Lin Prosthodontic Centre.

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