I'm no longer the lowest on the totem pole! A new class of freshman has started school and I'm now a sophomore. As I transitioned to my second year, I felt like a battle-weary soldier watching replacements fresh out of boot camp joining the fray--but wearing new scrubs instead of camouflage.
Looking back at my first year of dental school, I see that my lab background helped me greatly. Dentistry was a second language for me; I was rarely lost in my classes. On the other hand, I knew almost nothing about operative materials and preparation techniques. With more knowledge about the clinical aspect of dentistry, I feel like a much better technician.
At the end of my freshman year, an unusual thing happened. As class president, I serve on the dental school's curriculum committee and, since the dental anatomy professor had recently retired, I was asked to create an outline for a new dental anatomy curriculum. In my outline, I suggested reinstating the full-contour waxing portion of the class, which had been eliminated the previous semester.
My recommendation was based on the fact that waxing is an essential way for dental students to learn the importance of anatomy and the results that can be achieved simply by moving line angles, buccal contours and mimicking existing anatomy. These skills translate to amalgams, composites, direct bonding and understanding lab work in general, and helps the students realize the type of communication that's required in order to get the desired outcome for the patient. The committee accepted my proposal and even asked me to conduct a full-contour waxup demonstration for the freshmen as part of the course.
Dreaded Sophomore Year
Entering sophomore year filled me with a mixture of excitement and dread. First of all, we only had a one-week break between our freshman and sophomore years--not much time to celebrate. After that, we went back to eight-hour days, taking microbiology and oral radiology. Secondly, the curriculum load was nothing to look forward to and widely regarded as the toughest of the four years. When upperclassmen heard how hard I thought the first year was, they laughed. Not a good sign.
What's so difficult about year two? There are several intense science courses, most notably pathomedicine. Known as the "beast" of sophomore year, it's a year-long course on disease and, if you don't pass it, you have to repeat your entire second year of dental school. Gulp. It's by far the most difficult class I've ever taken. I've never been happy to get exam scores in the 70s until I took this course--the class average is often in the low 60s. By the time it ends, I'm sure I'll have a few gray hairs as souvenirs.
This year, we also have a lot of dental laboratory-related classes--removable partial dentures, indirect restorations, orthodontics, complete dentures, TMJ and occlusion--and my experience as a technician has given me a huge advantage. I had an RPD class that was exactly like the one I took in lab school, and my indirect restorations class was 80% laboratory work. We've fabricated full-gold crowns, cast posts and cores, TMJ appliances, ortho study models, and we're currently bending ortho wire.
Thanks to my lab background, I finish all of my lab projects early, which allows me to study for the sciences; many of my classmates spend countless hours making and remaking lab projects. The dexterity I developed in the lab has also facilitated learning to drill in the mouth.
The Role of the Lab
I've always wondered how technicians are actually perceived by dental students and if professors adequately emphasize how essential labs are to the success of a dental practice. Will we be taught to view labs as a true partner in patient care or as a commodity?
My freshman year, one of my professors repeatedly reinforced that it's the dentist's responsibility to do his job correctly and that if he gives the lab everything it needs, the lab will almost always return great work. He also felt that most remakes are due to clinician error and it's unfair that labs usually end up taking the blame. Needless to say, I agree with him wholeheartedly.
This year, my professors continue to emphasize the importance of laboratories and seem to have a great deal of respect for technicians' capabilities. What's missing so far, though, is a real emphasis on the fact that technicians are a partner in patient care and that dentists should work to build relationships with them. Also, we've heard multiple times that some labs are better at certain restorations and it's recommended we send work to multiple labs--as well as to do as much direct restorative work as possible to cut down on our lab bills. Overall, though, I've been pleasantly surprised that we're being taught to respect technicians and I think my class gets the big picture.
Year two is tough, but there's a small light at the end of the tunnel. Upon completing second year, we reach the "promised land": clinic! Sometimes I peek into the school's clinic just to remind myself of why I should go to the library to study for the entire weekend. So instead of looking forward to graduation, which seems like a lifetime away, I look forward to entering clinic, where I can start treating patients and really learn what clinical dentistry is all about.
Read Eric's other articles describing his journey though dental school:
- Life On the Other Side: a Technician Goes to Dental School
- A Technician Goes to Dental School: One Semester Down, Seven to Go
- Labs and Dental Practices: Not So Different After All