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New dentistry technology

New dentistry teaching technology will revolutionize dental education at the University.

Beyond teeth-on-a-stick

3M makes gift to renovate dentistry teaching labs

By Cathy Madison

From M, spring 2006

More. Faster. Better. That's the kind of training School of Dentistry students will receive when a new Simulation Clinic debuts in 2007. Thanks to a $1 million gift from 3M Foundation, the school is well on its way toward raising the $10.5 million it will take to eclipse its competition.

No longer will incoming students face the dilemma that Naomi Schwegler encountered when choosing to enroll here. As daughter of University-trained dentist Robert and dental hygienist Inez Schwegler, Naomi knew the dental school had a stellar reputation for clinical training, and that it graduated 80 percent of the state's practicing dentists. But she also knew that it lacked the state-of-the-art preclinical facilities boasted by her other choices.

"It was a difficult decision for me," she says.

"We have the opportunity to become the most technologically advanced dental education facility in the country," says School of Dentistry dean Patrick Lloyd.

While medical students train on the latest computer systems, beginning dental students learn on typodonts, or "teeth-on-a-stick." Not exactly high-tech.

Enter the wow factor. The planned 11,200-square-foot Simulation Clinic in Moos Tower will feature 100 workstations with flat-screen monitors hooked to a central teaching area, so every student gets a front-row seat for instructor demonstrations. Each station will have a lifelike mannequin with a movable head, shoulders, and flexible jaws, lips and cheeks as well as teeth. An additional 20 virtual reality-based units will be equipped with motion tracking systems: light-emitting diodes on both mannequin and drill that measure tooth preparation in tenths of a millimeter. A computer translates the measurements and students view feedback on-screen in the form of 3-D images that change in real time. Evaluations are immediate and precise. If a student nicks a virtual nerve, red lights will flash.

"The new clinic will mean a drastic change in how skills are mastered," says Arnold Hill, D.D.S '63, M.S.D. '65, volunteer chair for the fund-raising campaign. He says alumni are responding enthusiastically to this, the first of many planned innovations.

"We have the opportunity to become the most technologically advanced dental education facility in the country," says School of Dentistry dean Patrick Lloyd.

Virtual-reality-based equipment has been proven to be more effective in preparing students for real patients. Students learn 40 to 50 percent faster, says Judith Buchanan, the school's associate dean for academic affairs, who has conducted research on dental simulation technology since 1998. "It can revolutionize our whole curriculum."

The new clinic will help students learn faster and better, and make the school the best in the Big Ten. Says Naomi Schwegler, "I only wish it were already here, so I could take advantage of it, too."