Logo: University of Southern California

Engineering the Mouth

Viterbi School, Biological Sciences and Dentistry Join Forces

August 04, 2007 —

The university’s course catalogue will introduce a new minor to undergraduate engineering students this fall.  The minor in Craniofacial and Dental Technology is an interdisciplinary collaboration among the School of Dentistry, the Department of Biomedical Engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and USC College’s Department of Biological Sciences.  It is designed to prepare students to enter the rapidly growing dental biotechnology industry as well as introduce them to recent innovations in craniofacial sciences and therapeutics.

A brainchild of USC School of Dentistry Board of Councilors member Cherilyn Sheets, the new minor was spearheaded by Reyes Enciso, a research scientist in the division of Craniofacial Sciences and Therapeutics, and Jean-Michel Maarek, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Viterbi. 

Reyes Enciso

The merging of dental science and engineering is a natural fit, Enciso says, as the dental field becomes more and more driven by technology. “Engineering and technology play heavily in many areas of dentistry,” she says.

The field of imaging relies heavily on engineering software to develop craniofacial 3-D models, while specialties such as orthodontics rely on the theories of mechanical engineering—forces, torques and rotations—to manipulate tooth movement.

Many clinical aspects are especially influenced by technology, Enciso says, including virtual implant placement, fabrication of dental restorations, caries detection in saliva, tooth regeneration and computer-assisted diagnosis and treatment based on 3-D imaging.

Engineering students can also develop an expertise that will differentiate them from their peers after graduation.

“The more comfortable and savvy someone is with the new technologies, the better niche they’ll develop if they decide to pursue dentistry as a career.”

The minor builds off Enciso’s two-year-old course—“Fundamentals of Craniofacial and Dental Technology”—taught through the biomedical engineering department at Viterbi.  Enciso invited dental research faculty to share how their research impinged on engineering technologies.


Jean-Michel Maarek

The new minor requires a minimum of 20 units in courses in chemistry, biomedical engineering and the biological sciences.  The coursework was designed to introduce students to concepts in craniofacial histology and embryology, head and neck anatomy, genetics, biochemistry and biotechnology as well as applications to dental diagnostics, imaging and dental therapies—including dental implants, restorative dentistry and craniofacial genetics. 

The program was officially approved for inclusion in the USC curriculum in May 2007.  Enciso says that their goal is to recruit 25 students for the 2008-2009 academic year.

“This program will look at dentistry from an engineering perspective and show the students how these technologies are the future of dental research,” Enciso says. “Ideally, we would love to encourage students to pursue craniofacial research as well as become dental technologists,” she says.


--Veronica Jauriqui