Sign language in dental education-A new nexus.

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The introduction of the landmark mandatory teaching of sign language to undergraduate dental students at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica, to bridge the communication gap between dentists and their patients is reviewed.


A review of over 90 Doctor of Dental Surgery and Doctor of Dental Medicine curricula in North America, the United Kingdom, parts of Europe and Australia showed no inclusion of sign language in those curricula as a mandatory component.


In Jamaica, the government's training school for dental auxiliaries served as the forerunner to the UWI's introduction of formal training of sign language in 2012. Outside of the UWI, a couple of dental schools have sign language courses, but none have a mandatory programme as the one at the UWI.


Dentists the world over have had to rely on interpreters to sign with their deaf patients. The deaf in Jamaica have not appreciated the fact that dentists cannot sign and they have felt insulted and only go to the dentist in emergency situations. The mandatory inclusion of sign language in the Undergraduate Dental Programme curriculum at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, sought to establish a direct communication channel to formally bridge this gap.


The programme of two sign language courses and a direct clinical competency requirement was developed during the second year of the first cohort of the newly introduced undergraduate dental programme through a collaborating partnership between two faculties on the Mona Campus.


The programme was introduced in 2012 in the third year of the 5-year undergraduate dental programme.


To date, two cohorts have completed the programme, and the preliminary findings from an ongoing clinical study have shown a positive impact on dental care access and dental treatment for deaf patients at the UWI Mona Dental Polyclinic.


The development of a direct communication channel between dental students and the deaf that has led to increased dental access and treatment for the deaf can be extended to dentists and to other dental students globally. The vision is that similar courses will be introduced in other health training programmes at the UWI, and conceivably, in other institutions.


The small sample size allows for informative, but not definitive, conclusions to be drawn.


The mandatory inclusion of sign language and Deaf culture in the dental curricula has not just removed a communication barrier, but has assisted in the empathetic and ethical development of the dental student.

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