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LONDON, UK: Dr Ali Nankali is a clinical senior lecturer at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London and the president of UKDentalCourses (UKDC), an online education platform that offers continuing professional development opportunities to dentists worldwide. Just a couple of years ago, Dr Nankali organised UKDC’s first international event, the Digital Dentistry Conference, and in July this year, he hosted the second edition of the event. In this interview with Dental Tribune International, he talks about the expansion of the business and discusses dental professionals’ growing interest in digital dentistry.
Dr Nankali, UKDC was officially launched in June 2019 and it had approximately 4,000 registered members on its website in May 2020. How has the platform evolved since then?
The UKDC website was launched in June 2019, and we had some preliminary plans for growth and for the provision of courses for UK clinicians. We began with hands-on courses for dentists only and received encouraging feedback.
In the first few months, the courses were run by me or in collaboration with a few other lecturers. This changed over time, and we soon began inviting well-known and experienced professionals to collaborate with us.
The business growth accelerated very quickly, and the expansion exceeded our expectations, resulting in 4,000 members. UKDC’s reputation grew beyond its borders, and we attracted new overseas active members, prompting the formation of UKDC-World, which pushed us to act more globally.
I am very pleased to share that the number of people registered on our platform had reached 9,000 by the end of 2021 and is now over 10,000, although our policy does not seek or force us to increase followers and members. We believe that membership should grow naturally, provided that we do our jobs properly.
“Digital dentistry is becoming an accepted part of dental schools”
Just a year after launching the website, you organised the first Digital Dentistry Conference in London. What was the impetus for the event, and what was the overall feedback from dental professionals?
One of our primary goals is to advance dentistry around the world by meeting the needs of dental professionals. After our appearance as a professional society, our followers asked for more courses, events and conferences. Since they were most interested in digital dentistry, my colleagues from Queen Mary University of London encouraged me to organise our first conference, the Digital Dentistry Conference, and helped to stage a prestigious event.
The feedback from attendees was highly satisfactory, which was motivating. However, since we were new in the dental industry, we faced a few challenges, the most noticeable of which was the announcement of COVID-19 just a few days before the planned conference. Although there were no restrictions at the time, the government encouraged people not to travel across the city or country, which resulted in numerous cancellations.
The second edition of the event, the Digital Dentistry Conference and Exhibition 2022, took place in July. How was this year’s event different from the first one?
The second Digital Dentistry Conference and Exhibition was better organised in terms of both planning and the materials provided. This time, we had a larger team, and our goal was to familiarise professionals with digital dentistry and its history; related technologies, such as scanning, designing and printing; and useful and reliable digital methods in clinical settings. Attendees had the opportunity to meet experienced speakers in the field and visit our exhibition. We hosted Planmeca, Sweden & Martina, UKloupes, ProSomnus, Crown Dental Burs, Panthera Dental and 3Dental, and the attendees were able to test some of their most recently developed high-tech devices.
The 2022 event combined talks and exhibitions, which made it more productive. It turns out that we are the only organisation that provides a conference with an exhibition section, whereas other organisations primarily provide exhibitions with some related talks.
Another exciting aspect is that the conference was held not only in-person but also online, since we realised that many people would be unable to attend owing to the pandemic. Based on the feedback, the system ran smoothly and our virtual attendees were satisfied with the service provided.
What were some of the highlights of the Digital Dentistry Conference and Exhibition 2022, and what topics were of particular interest to dental professionals this year?
In our second conference in London, we attempted to provide attendees with an opportunity to see the effects of digital dentistry in our healthcare services. We attempted to look at more clinical aspects, rather than just theory, and introduced novel devices and presented their effects on our treatments. The main goal of the conference was to boost the use of digital dentistry by demonstrating its reality. The conference provided an opportunity to gain a better understanding of digital dentistry and its use in dental practices. We also interviewed the attendees to hear their voices and created a YouTube channel so that everyone, including those who were not able to travel, can access the recordings.
The conference covered some new topics, such as sleep apnoea. Dr Aditi Desai, president of the British Society of Dental Sleep Medicine and the British Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, shone light on the topic. She was supported by Panthera Dental and ProSomnus Sleep Technologies.
Finally, the name of everyone who purchased a ticket to the conference was entered into a prize draw. We had two winners, one for dental loupes provided by UKloupes and one for a Planmeca Somia intra-oral camera provided by Planmeca UK. Also, we gave awards for the best poster presentation and the most collaborative organisation of the year 2022/2023.
Digital technology is rapidly advancing dentistry. Have you noticed a shift in dental professionals’ acceptance and use of digital technologies recently?
Not long ago, I could see an uncertain expression on people’s faces when there was a discussion about digital dentistry and its future. It was as if I were talking about the next century. Yet, it’s already happening, and I can definitely notice that dental students are attracted to this field. In an interview with the Dental Mirror, published in February 2022, I explained that I have been involved in digitalisation since 1981, when I was using a massive IBM computer at a time when personal computers were not yet available to the public.
It was not an easy task, as we had to use DOS with the C programming language. During the past four decades, this science has reached an entirely new level, and it is evident how attached society is getting to these high-tech systems. The demand for computers is on the rise and increasing faster than anticipated. The reason behind this is digitalisation—the rising volume of data being stored electronically—which allows us to create exciting software for improving many aspects of life in society, including our careers as dental professionals.
In the next ten years, we will see great changes. High costs and complicated software are the two main issues that slow down progress, yet I think that these issues will be tackled relatively soon.
What further advances in technology do you expect? What would you like to see in dentistry in the future?
Digital dentistry is becoming an accepted part of dental schools, and this is motivating dental students—who are the future of dentistry—to embrace the technology. They recognise its effectiveness and are ready and willing to work with digital devices.
In addition, the running of professional courses and events by organisations such as UKDC-World will help digital dentistry to become more mainstream quickly. If we consider in more detail what has been happening recently, we see that physical attendance is slowly disappearing, and a combination of hands-on and virtual courses is replacing conventional teaching methods. This way of learning helps advance patient care services and is beneficial to both the attendees and course organisers.