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Updated 11:00 AM March 22, 2004



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Technology gives dental students 'front row seats'

A new era in dental education is about to begin at the School of Dentistry.

Because of a generous $2 million commitment from an alumnus, who earned his dental degree from the school in 1932, students soon will use the latest technology that will, in effect, bring clinical dental education directly to their desktops.
Dr. David Traynor (seated) and Dr. Merle Jaarda showcase some of the new features of this state-of-the-art workstation in one of two School of Dentistry preclinics. Traynor, a preclinical instructor, demonstrates a procedure on a mannequin head dental students will use. On the monitor in the background is an image instructors will be able to send to each dental student showing, in this case, how the oral cavity should appear after the procedure is finished. (Photo by Keary Campbell)

That education will occur in the renovated west preclinic—recently renamed the Dr. Roy H. Roberts Preclinical Laboratory in honor of the alumnus—where 110 new workstations have been installed for use by first- and second-year dental students.

One of the major features in each workstation is a television monitor that allows students to watch instructors demonstrate various dental procedures using an array of resources—computers, the Internet, DVDs, 35 mm slides, videotapes, an intraoral camera and a device resembling a flatbed scanner.

An elevated platform gives an instructor a bird's eye view of the workstations in the 3,300-square-foot west preclinic. A desktop on the platform allows instructors to use a flat-screen monitor as a chalk board or telestrator for emphasis. Nearby, small television cameras can zoom in and out as well as rotate 360 degrees. The cameras can televise live demonstrations of instructors using mannequin heads to illustrate procedures that range from preparing teeth for restorations to crown preparations.

"Each student now has a front row seat to observe these procedures," says Dr. Merle Jaarda, preclinical instructor and associate professor of dentistry. Previously, students gathered around an instructor to observe a dental procedure.

Beneath each student's desktop, in a cabinet on the lower left side of each workstation, is a mannequin head attached to a platform. The mannequin head pivots right and left to simulate a patient's position for any type of dental procedure. The equipment helps dental students learn correct ergonomic positioning to maximize their dexterity skills.

A gift of $1 million from Dr. Roy Roberts (DDS 1932) and his wife, Natalie, and a $1 million allocation from a previous gift from the couple, helped launch the renovations. Dr. Roberts, who is 97 years old, saw pictures of the renovations in January when former Dean Dr. William Kotowicz and Director of Development Diana Neering visited the couple at their Florida home.

"He was pleased to see the progress that was being made and seeing how different things would be," Kotowicz says. "As he looked at the pictures, Roy talked about some of his experiences as a dental student at Michigan. He was especially pleased to know that students would no longer have to crowd around one another and strain to see an instructor demonstrate a procedure as they used to do when he was a student at Michigan in the late '20s and early '30s," Kotowicz says.

"Dr. Roberts was excited to know that his gift to the School of Dentistry would be making a major difference in the lives of so many students for years to come," Neering says.

The school's preclinics play a crucial role in dental education. First- and second-year dental students develop and refine the motor skills they need before administering oral health care, such as learning how to hold and use dental instruments, as well as practicing basic techniques on mannequins.

During their second year, dental students continue working in preclinics, but gradually begin applying the basic skills they have learned in clinics. They also assist third- and fourth-year dental students who provide oral health care.

In January 2003, the Board of Regents authorized renovations to the west preclinic, the first to that facility since the School of Dentistry Building was constructed in 1969. Renovations began to the west preclinic almost as soon as classes ended last April. The cost to renovate both the west and east preclinics will total approximately $7 million. Other funds are being raised from gifts from alumni and friends of the School of Dentistry.

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