Dentistry For Dummies: It's Truly Pain Free

Posted: April 01, 1998

Only a dummy would let a first-year dental student practice drilling in his mouth.

But, happily for humans, dummies are exactly what dental students get to practice on.

In the tooth repair and cavity filling laboratory at Temple University Dental School, 118 first-year students pick up 118 drills and lean over 118 life-size heads containing 3,304 perfect teeth.

Just the thought of all those drills whining away may be enough to make your teeth hurt but Dr. Daniel Boston, chairman of Temple's restorative dentistry department, says that the purpose of the lab, at least, should be calming.

``It should come as some comfort to know that dental students spend two years working on models before they're allowed to treat real patients [under the direct supervision] of our faculty,'' he said.

``Students are required to pass every phase of the lab work or they can't move on. It's not like learning history or math where you can sit in a lecture hall with 300 people and one professor. This lab is designed to be intensive and difficult,'' Boston added.

There are some 20 different methods of filling teeth and the students have to master every one to pass the course.

Boston says that having dummies for the students to practice on ``is great because the patient is always on time, always cooperative and lets you practice as much as you want. A real patient wouldn't be so understanding.''

The simulated human heads have teeth made of a hard, polymer material that closely approximates real teeth.

The students first create cavities in the teeth and then fill them using the range of methods and materials current in dentistry.

A tooth filled by one method can simply be unscrewed and replaced with a new tooth, which can be drilled and filled by another method. Or a tooth can be removed and replaced if a given effort doesn't go well and the professor says try, try again.

By the end of a semester, says Boston, each student will go through approximately 100 teeth. Or put another way, those 118 students will perform 11,800 procedures on heads that never feel pain, never complain.

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