Generation digital

June 28, 2023

No need to tell the next generation of dental students where the future’s heading. They know digital workflows are the next big thing, and they’re hungry to learn more. Hajir Shamil is a fifth-year dental student at Azerbaijan Medical University in Baku. Originally from Nasiriyah, Iraq, Hajir says learning CAD/CAM opened her eyes to a new world of dentistry, one where the details are in focus and the patients benefit.

Q: Why did you decide to study dentistry?

A: I like the medical part of it, the anatomy. I was always interested in biology. You have your body as your model always with you. Whenever I study, I open my mouth and check this and that. It’s something scientific, real and proven. Second is that I'm very social. In dentistry, you need to be very socially intelligent to work with patients—to know how to talk to them. When patients come to the office, they are often in pain and at a real weak point. I like making a connection with them. And the last reason is the details. I'm a details freak, and in dentistry, every millimeter matters.

Q: When did you first discover digital dentistry?

A: My first experience goes back to my second year at university. I was in the simulation lab. I saw a flyer for a course in 3D digital computer tomography. I got so excited. We had only really been studying analog approaches, and I never knew digital could be included in dentistry. But then Covid happened, and the course was canceled. Two years later, I contacted the dentist who had offered the training sessions and he offered an individual course, and it was mesmerizing. We could see through different planes and be very precise. Although I was only in my fourth year, he taught me a lot about implants, how to do guided implants and how to locate the nerve. I could see layer by layer. Whenever people ask what I’m interested in, I say digital dentistry. I’m hooked.

I've always heard dentists say, 'We design smiles,' but with exocad, you literally design smiles. I love that.

Q: Since your university was focusing more on analog approaches, how did you gather more information about digital dentistry?  

A: Mostly from the internet at the beginning. Every aspect of our life is digitalizing now. I saw the opportunities and thought, let's go there. While searching on the internet, I discovered 'the purple program,' exocad, where people are literally designing smiles. I've always heard dentists say, 'We design smiles,' but with exocad, you literally design smiles. I love that. I was talking to one of my mentors in pediatric dentistry at that time, and she suggested I contact one of the labs at my university which is a digital dental lab. She told me to stop by and see if they would offer me some training. I decided to do it!

Q: Was that your first contact with exocad software?

A: Yes! I went to the lab and asked if they would train me on DentalCAD. They said, ‘Of course!’ They gave me a laptop with exocad software on it and told me to first just play around with it and see what happens. I liked it so much, I decided to stay on and work there during my studies.

Q: How has your experience with exocad software at the lab influenced your career goals?

A: I really enjoy CAD designing. I’ll see where the road takes me, but I know I’d like to continue doing some CAD designing even after becoming a dentist. I also like that digital workflows allow me to see beyond just the crowns or veneers or only the prosthetic part. I have the perspective of  soft tissue, the tooth, the root, and the oral cavity. And I like that I can do it literally from anywhere. I could imagine being a remote designer.

Q: What do your classmates think about digital dentistry? Do you talk about it?

A: Because the digital dental lab I work in is surrounded by glass, a lot of my classmates see me working there and ask me about it. I explain what I do, and they say, ‘Wow! That’s so cool.’ It’s a real eye-opener for them. The lab is expanding too. They want to make it a digital center. So future students will get more exposure.

I'm still undecided about what specialty I'd like to pursue. But I know that if I’m a dentist, I’ll be a digital dentist. That’s a done deal.

Q: What’s your dream job?

A: That’s hard to answer. I graduate in a few months, and I’m still undecided about what specialty I’d like to pursue. But I know that if I’m a dentist, I’ll be a digital dentist. That’s a done deal.

Q: Do you think digital workflows are attracting more women to the field?

A: When I started at the lab, there were four or five employees, all men. But then I started and this year another woman joined who is responsible for radiology and the CBCT. I see more and more women in labs nowadays. I think the cleanliness is really attractive. You have your mouse, your keyboard, and the world at your fingertips. I actually think more women in general are falling in love with dentistry. And I can’t wait to meet more women in the industry—to see more people like me.

Q: If exocad was an animal, what would it be?

A: A falcon because exocad can fly. I can be sitting here at my computer and fly anywhere with my CAD design.

Q: Favorite tooth?

A: The central incisor. It's very simple anatomy, but I think that's why every detail matters—every angle, every marginal line matters. It's very simple and detailed.

Q: Do you have a favorite song at the moment?

A: My favorite song would be 'Let Her Go' by Passenger. It reminds me of my best friend. We’d always listen to it on the way home from school.

Q: If you could travel anywhere for a day, where would you go?

A: I would go home to Baghdad to see my family—my parents and my sister.

Q: What one word do you think of when I say exocad?

A: Precision.

Hajir Shamil was born in Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is a 23-year-old dental student graduating this summer from Azerbaijan Medical University. Through five years of dental school, she has tried her best to unlock her potential in dentistry—from pursuing her first job as a dental assistant to shadowing other dentists and finally finding her passion in lab work. For the past year and a half, Hajir has held different roles in different dental labs in Baku and Baghdad. An intern, a lab assistant and finally a CAD designer—she’s a digital dentistry enthusiast who’s doing her best to carve a spot in this emerging field. After graduating and returning to Baghdad, where she calls home, Hajir plans to work as a full-time CAD designer until new opportunities arise. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

by Caitlan Reeg
Writer at exocad

Caitlan Reeg spends her days telling the world about the innovations her colleagues create. She’s passionate about healthcare, technology, and the ways the two interact to improve our lives. A former journalist, Caitlan has worked on staff at Dow Jones Newswires in Frankfurt and at the national public radio program Marketplace in Los Angeles.