Professor Dr. Adam Husein


Professor Dr. Adam Husein

Dean for School of Dental Sciences Universiti Sains Malaysia


Prof. Adam, on behalf of MDSA, thank you for accepting our invitation to be our special guest today for ‘Interview with the Expert’. Can you tell us a little bit about where you come from and how you become the Dean of USM Faculty of Dentistry?

I was awarded with the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree from the University of Adelaide, Australia in 1996 and returned to Malaysia to work for the Ministry of Health until 1999. Then I joined Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) as a trainee lecturer in 1999. From 2000 until 2003, I continued my studies in the University of Adelaide and obtained Graduate Diploma in Clinical Dentistry, Doctor in Clinical Dentistry (Prosthodontics) and Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (FRACDS). In 2004, I started my career as a lecturer at the School of Dental Sciences, USM. As a lecturer, I also served as the coordinator for Prosthodontics, Phase 3 Chairperson and Deputy Dean (Academic and Student Development) from 2005 until December 2009. From September 2009 until September 2010, I was given the opportunity to pursue one year subspecialty training in United Kingdom (Liverpool and Manchester) in the field of Maxillofacial Prosthodontics. In March 2011, I was appointed as the third Dean of the School. As a lecturer, my  job is not only to teach, but also to treat patients, carry out research, publish papers and attend conferences. My colleagues and the university had given me immense support throughout all these years and I am very grateful for that.

Why do you choose to be in the academic pathway instead of being a practitioner?

I worked in the Ministry of Health for 3 years and during that time, I was doing locum in a private practice as well. In my opinion, our focus in the clinic is mainly the patients and the job is quite routine and similar. We may see different patients but our treatment procedures are almost similar. On the other hand, working in the University entails a wider variety of tasks. I get to see new students every year, do research, treat patients, and engage in publications at the same time. In addition, there are also opportunities for travel to attend conferences and present your research outcomes. That will give me more opportunities to meet new people in my field and create linkages and networking. I think being in the academic field suits me best, and I am happy and satisfied with what I am doing now.

There are many Malaysians currently studying Dentistry overseas. Since you studied in Australia, could you share with us the differences of dental practices in Malaysia and Australia?

In Australia, they focus more on preventive and restorative dentistry whilst less on extraction and surgery due to the demand. The decayed, missing, and filled teeth (DMFT) index in Australia is amongst the lowest in the world.

In Malaysia, dental treatments in the past focus more on surgery as not many patients can afford advanced treatments such as endodontics and crown. However, as our people now are becoming more aware of the importance of their oral health and they are able to afford better dental treatments, I think our focus for dental care will be changing in the near future.

I personally benefit from my time in Australia. I’ve learned different cultures, ways of life, dental perspectives and so on. If you have the opportunity to study overseas, go for it. When you come back, you can share and make the best use of what you have learnt from outside and practise them in Malaysia. There might be some differences in the dental treatment depending on the case but the principle remains the same.

One of your specialties is on dental biomaterial and stem cells. As dental material is an advancing field in dentistry, can you tell us more about this specialty and its future prospects?

In dentistry, the development of new materials is probably not as rapid as the other health sciences. But we do have better materials now as compared to before. For instance, when amalgam was previously considered as the best, scientists discovered composite resin which has better aesthetics. We are also drifting away from the GV Black concept of ‘Extension for Prevention’ to conserve more of the tooth structure. The development of Glass Ionomer Cements (GIC) as a fluoride-releasing dental restorative and water flouridation is now recognized as the among the main factors responsible for the decline in dental caries prevalence globally. All these tremendous developments in dental materials improve the way we treat patients. Computerized dentistry or CAD/CAM also provides patients with more options while implant is one of the biggest discovery in dentistry so far. We used to be known as tooth-puller, and now we can give back the teeth.

In USM, we are involved in the research of stem cells for the purpose of generating new knowledge in the subject as well as possibly growing new teeth in the future. We use stem cells from dental pulp of exfoliated and extracted primary teeth and grow them into different types of cell. We want to transform the cells into odontoblasts, cementoblasts and other tooth-related cells. We have managed to grow the stem cells into odontoblasts and currently, we are trying to grow them into cementoblasts. Ideally, we need all the cells to grow back into a tooth and this is a very ambitious yet long term plan, and we are not sure if we will succeed in the near future, but the endeavour continues. Stem cells is one of the highly researched fields in dentistry. In our institution, we have done a study on growing cementoblasts from stem cells and now we are trying to transfer that research from in vitro to animals and humans. This is indeed a long term project.

In Malaysia, we do not offer any Master degrees in Dental Materials. However, if you are interested to study prosthodontics and conservative dentistry, dental materials is covered as well. In some countries such as India, they offer a 2-year programme that focuses specifically on dental materials. Another option is obtaining a PhD/ MSc by research whereby you focus on a certain material and you may produce new materials afterwards.

When Prof Dato’ Dr Ab Rani Samsudin, the founder dean developed the school, the curriculum was designed in such a way that dental students shared the same curriculum with medical students for the first three years. The aim was to produce oral physicians with strong basic medical sciences which will be future leaders with scientists’ mind. Nowadays, we are using materials that people are producing instead of inventing any new materials. The best way to venture into new materials is to go through the research pathway because essentially, dentistry and its materials are inseparable.

Dr Adam, do you have any advices for the current dental students?

Success depends on where you want to go in life. For now, focus on your studies and do well in your undergraduate course. We have 13 dental schools in Malaysia and along with the graduates from overseas, we have around 1000 new dentists every year. It will be competitive in the next few years. So, do not be satisfied with just passing, strive to be excellent. Try to pursue further studies as well as grasping every knowledge possible will make us go far in life.

Success will come from what you followed previously. There are many doctors and dentists in the world, but some stand out. Why? It is due to the combination of great communication skills, extra knowledge and good dental skills. If you have these qualities, no matter where you are, you will be successful. Rest assured as you are in the right profession and for now, graduating as a dentist should be your priority.