Across the world, 3.5 billion people live with oral diseases, affecting more than twice as many as cancers, heart disease and chronic respiratory illnesses combined. This burden is not only human but also economic—with dental problems costing more than other medical conditions (NIH 2021; WHO 2022). The need for new approaches to prevent, treat, and cure oral-craniofacial disorders is urgent.
The intersection of engineering and dentistry has already resulted in significant innovations. Digital dentistry, intraoral scanning and CAD-CAM have replaced traditional impressions sent to laboratories, 3D printing has enabled the production of dental appliances and restorations, and artificial intelligence and Big Data are advancing diagnostics and treatment strategies (British Dental Journal 2021).
But much remains to be done. The interdisciplinary field of dental engineering—encompassing materials science, biology, and dentistry—aims to advance the next generation of solutions for these challenges. And to do so, it is important to understand the fundamentals of engineering and what it means to think like an engineer.
To address these needs, in January of 2021, Penn Engineering and the School of Dental Medicine established the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD) to bring together experts from both schools. This institute, supported by institutional funds, industry sponsorship, and federal grants, is designed to sustain the nascent ecosystem of dentistry-engineering integration—to promote cross-disciplinary research and training in dental medicine-engineering at the predoctoral and doctoral levels, and to foster translation of discoveries to deliver affordable and accessible solutions for the benefit of all.