UW News

November 14, 1996

Dental simulators revolutionize training of future dentists

Students at the University of Washington School of Dentistry will no longer practice root canals on dental molds clamped to work benches or held in the palms of their hands. Instead, students will perfect dental techniques on their own “patients”– dental simulators designed to provide a state-of-the-art learning environment that most closely resembles a real-life clinical setting.
Dental simulators, the latest technology available for dental instruction, are now in use at the UW School of Dentistry during a pilot project underway this fall. By next year, dental simulators will be in place for use by all dental students.

Dr. Charles Bolender, professor of prosthodontics and head of the dental simulator planning committee, explained that the new devices provide a superior instructional environment that will revolutionize students’ transition from laboratory and classroom to clinic.

“With the simulators, students can carry out new procedures just as they would on a real patient but in a setting where they can learn from their mistakes and be able to go back and correct them,” Bolender said. “They also learn basic techniques of how to correctly position a patient, how to use proper lighting and, basically, how to become familiar with working inside a person’s mouth — things students have had to wait to learn until they saw their first real patient.”

The dental simulators, grouped in work stations, each consist of a life-sized torso and head figure, standard dental instrumentations, lights and laboratory bench. The simulator stations will also be equipped with a computer station that will allow students to communicate directly with the instructor while they work, conduct on-line research and view high resolution color images.

A group of students are currently testing five dental simulators. When complete, a total of 55 workstations will be in place at the simulation lab.

“I get the feeling I’m working on a patient — not a plastic model,” said Kirk King, one of a handful of second- and third-year dental students now using the new devices. “The simulators make you aware of the limited access you have with a patient, the best angle to work at for different procedures and many other things that were such a huge adjustment when starting real clinic work.”

The dental simulators will be used for student training in prosthodontics, endodontics, operative dentistry (fillings), restorative dentistry (crowns and bridges) and pediatric dentistry. After perfecting dental techniques in laboratory and preclinical settings, dental students begin clinical patient treatment during their second year.

The UW joins just two other dental schools in the nation that use dental simulators — the Medical College of Georgia and the University of the Pacific Dental School in California.