dentist sees beyond teeth
Tip-offs to major illness often appear in the mouth: a lesion that won't
heal might signal an immunodeficiency virus, while a tiny white or red
spot could be a symptom of oral cancer. Dentists are increasingly seen
as critical figures in the early detection of disease, and with innovative
teaching methods, Laisheng Lee Chou prepares students for what he terms
"a new world of dentistry."
"Unfortunately, many dentists look only at teeth," he says.
"I train students to think of the whole patient. I tell them, 'Your
patient's life might be in your hands.'"
A world-renowned expert in bone tissue engineering, molecular biocompatibility
of implant materials, and HIV-associated oral lesions, Chou is a professor
in the Goldman School of Dental Medicine's department of restorative sciences
and biomaterials and director of its Oral AIDS Clinic, the largest referral
clinic in the country for HIV-infected dental patients. He joined the
faculty in 1994.
Students praise his clarity when teaching state-of-the-art, complex material.
"The ease with which Dr. Chou explains challenging material is a
testament to his genuine brilliance as a teacher," a former student
wrote in his letter of recommendation to the Metcalf Committee. A current
graduate student noted of the Chinese-born professor, "Not only is
he an expert within multiple areas of dentistry, he is also able to communicate
his knowledge appropriately to his students."
Traditional dental programs, says Chou, have not given students adequate
clinical experience to deal with nondental oral diseases, such as mucosal
lesions, salivary gland disorders, and facial pain. Over the past seven
years, he has established comprehensive teaching models in the Oral AIDS
Clinic and Oral Medicine Clinic, where senior dental students assist with
some of his most complicated cases.
In the classroom, Chou has created a case-based final exam, where every
student receives a packet of information on eight patients, accompanied
by color dental photographs, and answers 10 questions on their diagnosis
and treatment. Chou provides correct answers to the exam a week later,
conducts a postexam review session, and lets the students keep the test
materials for future reference.
"The exam should be another learning process for students,"
he says. "It should reinforce what they have learned."
Dentistry being a multidisciplinary field, Chou encourages his students
to conduct research with teams of professors from different subspecialties.
Many of his students have won national and international awards for their
projects and published papers in peer-reviewed journals.
"Dr. Chou is exceptional," one former student wrote, "because
he is not just a star; he makes new stars and helps them shine."
Before joining the SDM faculty, Chou was a fellow at both the Medical
Research Council of Canada and the University of Chicago, and was the
principal investigator for the oral pathology division of the University
of California's School of Dentistry in San Francisco. He taught at Shanghai
Railway Medical University and Shanghai No. 2 Medical University in China,
where he received his doctorate of dental medicine in 1978. Chou received
postdoctoral diplomas in oral pathology and oral medicine from the University
of California, San Francisco, and his Ph.D. in oral biology from the University
of British Columbia.
He holds patents for a number of biomedical inventions, including one
for scaffolds for bone-tissue engineering.