Enhancing dental education through high-end simulation
Enhancing dental education through high-end simulation

Practice does, indeed, make perfect. And when University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Dental Medicine couples practice with advanced dental simulation technology, the level of perfection fosters not only competent dentists, but also leaders in the field.

The school has incorporated dental simulation technology in its curriculum since it opened during 2002. The technology’s immediate benefit is offering a safe environment to practice and fine-tune dental procedures necessary for becoming licensed practitioners.

“The school’s simulation laboratory is only one of many hands-on opportunities available to the students during their education,” said Dr. Karen West, professor and dean of UNLV School of Dental Medicine. “The sophisticated technology helps students master their skills and become more confident performing a multitude of procedures, particularly when they enter actual patient care.”

The school’s simulation laboratory contains 85 student stations and an instructor console, all equipped with large screen digital monitors, manikin heads and jaws, lamps, and trays to hold dental instruments. Each station simulates a complete treatment environment that a newly graduated dentist will find in a private practice setting.

According to Dr. Stanley Nelson, professor and division chief of the simulation laboratory, the school recently upgraded its technology in time for the start of the fall semester. One of the enhancements enables students to lower the manikin head and jaw to a more ergonomic level.

“The mechanism that simulates the dental chair descends farther than previous models, which helps students who are shorter than 5 feet, 5 inches to assume a more ideal body posture,” Dr. Nelson said. “Ideally, dentists should be able to sit with their thighs parallel to the floor. This technology provides students with a realistic experience in positioning the patient as well as themselves.”

The new head and jaw simulators also reproduce better bite positions that help students perfect the size and placement of appliances such as crowns or bridges. Proper bite positioning eliminates pain that can be caused by uneven surfaces or poor alignment.

The chairs now have a better water management and suction system that is more accurate than currently available in private practice, and the new digital monitors provide more distinct still images and video content.

Within the simulation laboratory, faculty can deliver lessons for performing fillings, root canals, crowns, periodontal, orthodontic, and some surgical procedures.

Students frequent the area continuously throughout the school year and even during school breaks. And when students aren’t using the stations to perfect procedures or prepare for the board exams, dentists from the community can schedule time to use the lab for learning new techniques during continuing education courses.

“All the upgrades provide instructors with the tools they need to teach in a more realistic fashion and better prepare students to excel in their careers,” said Dr. Nelson. “Once our students graduate, they are more than ready to take the licensing board exams and, once passed, begin practicing dentistry.”

Photo: UNLV School of Dental Medicine student practising on the manikin head.

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