A Technician Goes to Dental School: One Semester Down, Seven to Go
Posted Apr 28, 2011, Published 2010-02-01
In Part II of his ongoing column, technician-turned-dental student, Eric Nunnally, CDT, chronicles his experience at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry.
People kept telling me that dental school would fly by. Liars.
It has been a great experience so far, but by no means is it going quickly. People also told me that getting accepted to dental school was the hardest part of dental school. Liars.
The coursework is difficult and, at this point, I feel more like a physician than a dentist. I could diagnose a systolic heart murmur more quickly than a cavity and I know more about the systems of the human body than I ever wanted to. We're taking the same basic science courses as the medical students, but with the dentistry work on top of it. We're in school approximately 34 hours a week and it's not unusual to study 30-40 hours for one exam, which we have every three to four weeks. In between all of that, you try to learn to drill and place direct restorations and remind yourself that you are training to be a dentist. Why do we have to learn the function and pathologies of the human body in excruciating detail? After our second year of school we're required to take Part I of the National Dental Boards, an intense, eight-hour, written exam with a focus on physiology, pathology, head/neck anatomy, histology, dental anatomy, microbiology and biochemistry. Passing this exam is required for graduation, you only get three chances to pass it and you have to wait 90 days to retake it if you fail. Just thinking about it stresses me out.
One Semester Down...
So what have we learned about laboratories in our first semester? Not much. However, we did have several guest speakers who often mentioned the laboratory, saying "Then you send it off to the lab for a restoration" or "Find a lab that's good at this and it will make your job a lot easier."
From what I've heard so far, there's a high level of respect for laboratories and some speakers also mentioned that labs are instrumental in dental research efforts. Aside from advising us to do direct restorations to cut our lab bill, our professors have yet to go into any specifics about working with a lab, but I believe that will come when we get closer to clinic in our third year. It will be very interesting to hear them advise us on how to choose a laboratory when we get into clinical practice.
A trend I'm seeing from our professors and speakers is an enthusiasm for implants, because of the improving technology and the benefits they provide. I know the lab industry has been saying this for a while and it's interesting to hear that clinicians also feel implants will be a huge part of dentistry in the future. A lot of my classmates, including myself, assume they'll be an integral part of our practices.
In my first column (LMT's November/December 2009 issue) I said our class wouldn't be waxing teeth in dental school but that's not entirely accurate. While we're not getting the classical training in waxing full contour, we are getting some experience with manipulating wax. As we learn about each type of cavity prep, we're required to cut the prep and then replace what we removed with wax. For example, for a Class I prep (occlusal surface only), we essentially removed the occlusal table and replaced it with wax. Then we have to cut the prep and fill it with amalgam.
Other than reinforcing our knowledge of dental anatomy before we fill the cavity with a direct restoration, I'm not sure how helpful this waxing exercise is. As a technician, I find it hard to replace just one part of a tooth--it feels very constricting. I'd prefer to wax the entire tooth to full contour from a crown preparation. We only get one chance to do a full contour wax up which is our final for the course. I certainly hope my class is learning to appreciate the skill of dental technicians.
I was expecting my lab skills to really give me an edge, but so far that hasn't been the case. My biggest advantages have been my hand skills and my familiarity with the terminology, dental anatomy and function. However, next semester we have our first true laboratory course--complete dentures--so I'm hoping my lab experience will give me a leg up then. I'll keep you posted.
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
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