Life On the Other Side: a Technician Goes to Dental School
Posted Apr 28, 2011, Published 2009-11-01
A year ago, Eric Nunnally was working in his father's laboratory. Today, he's a student at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, wearing scrubs, dissecting a human body and learning to drill a cavity prep.
Life can be a crazy ride. A year ago, I was 30 years old and an implant/quality control technician and administrator of Derby Dental Lab in Louisville, Kentucky, owned by my father, David. Now I'm in dental school at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, surrounded by 22 year olds, wearing scrubs every day, dissecting a human body and trying to figure out how to drill a cavity prep.
As a technician, I've always wondered about the dental educational experience--especially how the laboratory industry is viewed in the eyes of the schools. What are dental students learning about the dentist/technician relationship? How much lab work do they actually do? Why don't they understand they're not giving the lab what it needs to fulfill their needs for this case?
As I go through my education in dentistry, I'd like to share my experiences with all of you in the laboratory industry. The goal of my column--which will appear periodically in LMT--is to provide insight into what is being taught in dental school, from the perspective of someone with a real laboratory background.
So far, I've noticed one interesting statistic about my dental school class: the recent trend of an increasing number of female dentists is alive and well. Out of 85 students in my class, 44 are female. I've seen labs change their marketing to accommodate the female dentists in their area and, clearly, this strategy will be even more important in the future. For instance, I know labs that have special "women in dentistry" seminars with only female attendees and speakers.
Another interesting development: about a week before school started, we were informed that the dental anatomy teacher had retired so our class would not be waxing teeth. Past students were required to wax all the teeth of the mouth, very similar to what I did in lab school. Eliminating the waxing means that we will be able to start creating preps about three months earlier than usual. I'm not yet sure if this lack of waxing will have an impact on the students' understanding of the dental laboratory. In our sophomore year, we'll cast a full gold crown, so my class will have the experience of waxing, casting and metal finishing then.
In a perfect world, dental students would fabricate every prosthesis they would ever send to the lab, including porcelain work and casting/finishing RPDs. Most technicians can appreciate the experience of working with a doctor who really understands what can and can't be done with lab work and, more importantly, the struggles of working with one who does not. However, I see now that with the amount of work already required of the students, this is unrealistic.
At this point I've only had four months of classes, and this semester focuses on physiology, histology, operative dentistry, dental anatomy, introduction to clinical dentistry, oral radiology and correlated sciences; we've already completed gross anatomy. So far, there's been little to no mention of what a dental lab is or any perceptions of laboratories. I've asked my classmates and most of them only know that labs make restorations for dentists; only a couple are aware of what actually goes on in a laboratory. However, stay tuned, I'm sure I will have a lot to talk about in upcoming columns.
Dentistry and the dental laboratory are in my blood; I've never thought of doing anything else. My father, David, is the owner of Derby Dental Lab and there are a total of six dentists in my family, including my grandfather, Boyce Nunnally Jr.; my uncle, Greg Nunnally; and my wife, Mary Kathryn Nunnally, who will graduate dental school in 2011.
In 1997, I entered the dental laboratory technology program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky then went on to earn a second degree in business administration from the University of Kentucky, working at my father's lab during the summers. After graduation, I began working full time at Derby and have handled general administration, marketing, quality control and implant cases.
I love the laboratory industry, but I've always been drawn to the dynamics of the dental operatory. During the spring of 2008--to the surprise of many of my colleagues--I decided to apply to the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. This required me to go back to college to finish 32 hours of science prerequisites, take the DAT and apply to dental school--all within one year.
Out of 2,700 applicants, I was one of 85 students accepted into the program. I began classes in July and will graduate in 2013. I believe my lab background and technical certifications were the unique highlights of my application.
I'm also happy to report that I've been elected class president. My main responsibilities include acting as a liaison between the faculty and my class, and keeping the class informed of important information.
Editor's Note: If you have a question or concern you'd like Eric to address in a future column, please e-mail Kim Molinaro at kim@LMTmag.com.
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