Professor Dr. Betsy Thomas

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“ Prof Betsy, can you share with us about your background, and why you chose to be in the academic line? ”

I come from a modest middle-class family. My father was an engineer, while my mother was an Ophthalmologist. Around the age of 18, I had attended a job-oriented programme conducted by my college that introduced me to the world of dentistry. The photos and videos of the patients' pre-treatment and post-treatment, made me feel that this sort of ‘magic’ was real. I knew that if I could learn such a skill, it would have a positive impact on the world. That is how I got into dentistry. You should understand, interest and passion are two completely different things. I was interested in dentistry, so I took it as a profession.  But passion? That came much later. l became passionate about dentistry because of one of the tutors I had. It was only then that I started realizing that my idea of dentistry was merely the surface of what it was. l came to realize how critical a teacher is to the development of the minds of the students and their passion towards the chosen field. I knew then, that if I wanted to make a meaningful contribution, I would not only have to be a dentist, but also be a teacher. That way I could serve and teach how to serve.

“ You have been in Malaysia since 2015. What attracted you to come over to Malaysia? ”

I was associated with Manipal University, Manipal from the time I graduated. Attraction for me to come over to Malaysia, no doubt, it was my husband - Prof Mohan Alexander. He had joined MAHSA University in 2013, and he assured me that academics here is also very enjoyable. and so I came over.

“ You have been involved in 48 researches, with 2 First Prize Awards and a Third Prize Award given for oral and poster presentations. Can you briefly share with us about your interest towards research activities and how will you encourage students to be involved in research activities? ”

Like a lot of us, I was initially not very interested in research. But carrying out the study for my thesis during my post-graduation, proved to be the turning point. I found it quite nice trying to find the answers to the doubts I had. When l had doubts regarding the answers that I found, I would dwell deeper into that research, and find more interesting facts. That is what got me interested in research. I believe that knowledge is power and that wisdom can change the world for the better. I try to emphasise the need for research to students to help them identify new methods and question the existing ones. ln a world where ‘Google’ is now a verb to look things up on the internet, we often take for granted everything we already know as an irrefutable truth. Ask any physicist, nothing is ever an irrefutable truth, not even our existence. And no doubt is ever silly. When we start asking questions and trying to find the answers ourselves, there is a sense of fulfilment. A sense of excitement that just cannot be put in words. And l believe that research helps us appreciate the time, effort and perseverance are very much required to obtain these results. You don’t have to be ‘incredibly smart’ to do a research. In fact, Webster’s dictionary defines research as a 'careful search’, 'collection of information about a particular subject’, etc. That’s not too hard. And I think, all of us can do it.

“ What pinned your interest in Oral Implantology and what are your contributions in MAHSA University’s Oral Implantology training programme? ”

Personally and professionally, for me, the usual methods of replacing teeth - complete dentures, and partial dentures etc. are not ideal. I feel it can be a botheration for the patient, keeping an artificial thing in the mouth that is shaking and moving. Even the crown and bridge, I don't think it is ideal, because when you cut a tooth for a bridge, you are destroying your natural tooth to give an artificial substitute. Look into the literature, it says that the chance of having Irreversible Pulpitis is common in the teeth which had Fixed Partial Denture or crown placement without performing a root canal treatment. So the best thing to happen, would be to regrow a lost tooth. But since we don’t have the scientific knowledge for it presently, I think dental implants are the best thing. That's how I got interested. I have been lucky to be involved in training dentists in Implantology since 2002...that is for around 15, 16 years? Regarding my contribution to MAHSA Implant programme, I think I was fortunate to have been made the first coordinator of the MAHSA Implantology training programme. This gave me an opportunity to plan the programme in such a way as to make it interesting for the practicing dentist to learn the science behind Implantology, without distracting them with too much theory. I was helped in this by my colleagues in the program very much, without whose contribution it wouldn't have been possible. As I already mentioned, I have been teaching Implantology for around 15 years, which helped me a lot. My experience with different implant systems like Frialit, Nobel Biocare, MlS etc also came in handy. I would like to mention here that, before I became a Periodontist, I had worked in the Prosthodontic department for around 2 and a half years, and that has really helped me because ultimately, Implantology is about restoring dentition. But, the fine tuning of my surgical skills were developed during my post-graduation in Periodontology.

“ Can you briefly talk about the Master Programme available at MAHSA University? ”

Master of Orofacial Sciences programme bridges the Doctor of Dental Surgery and the 3-years Doctorate. This one-year programme will be a pre-requisite for the first planned Doctoral programme, that is the Doctor of Restorative Dentistry. This combination of one-year Master and 3-years Doctoral programme will be among the qualifications required to enable graduates to be registered as Dental Specialist under the new Malaysian Dental Act 2018 which was recently passed by the cabinet. And l am proud to say that MAHSA is the first private university to provide a Masters degree by course work. The common core courses make up to 50% of the programme and include applied medical and dental sciences, research methodology and biostatistics, research project and general dentistry. The restorative module shall comprise of at least 50% of the programme. Now the entry requirements for this programme is that you should be a bachelor of dental surgery, with a minimum of one-year clinical experience after graduation. For Malaysians, they should be registered with the Malaysian Dental Council (MDC). And for the foreigners, they should be registered with the dental regulatory body of their country, so that they are eligible to be granted a TPC by the MDC.

“ Last but not least, do you have any advice for the current dental students? ”

Wow, we all love giving advice, don't we? Especially as a teacher, we think we have to give advice. Anyway, my request to the dental students would be, as I mentioned earlier, do not take anything for granted. I agree that dentistry is an art, but it is also a science. Don’t just focus on the artistic aspect, like what composite to use, how to fabricate the denture etc. It is the science part of dentistry that help us advance in this profession and make us ‘doctors’. Go beyond the idea of dentist being a job. It should be seen as a service to humanity which you should be passionate about. And this is what drives people to be successful. The popularity and allure of dentistry is at an all time high. But you should understand that, science is evolving constantly. For example, earlier on, dentists used to prescribe antibiotics for almost everything. Now, most of us are aware about the consequences of it, such as resistant bacteria, which is causing a havoc for human beings. Now there is hardly any indication for antibiotics. You look at Periodontics, the hype about Aggressive Periodontitis, after the present classification, no one has ever mentioned about it. With new procedures and competitive technology coming in every now and then, it is necessary to be updated, and it is crucial to stay ahead of the curve. Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle. So, it is not just enough for us to be knowledgeable, critical thinking is the key. That is my opinion.