Dentistry students offer low-cost service

Jake Kapsner

Hand drills buzz and whine as 50 dental students in white coats practice carving crowns into the mouths of fake metal heads.
Soon these dental rookies will move upstairs from the fourth floor laboratories of the Moos Health Sciences Tower and join the ranks of graduate students and their faculty observers, whose hands tend to flesh and bone.
And with almost 100,000 patient visits last year alone, the University’s School of Dentistry clinics are buzzing themselves.
But the school’s purpose is not to simply churn out patients, asserted Paul Olin, associate dean of Clinical Systems, but to educate students. Despite the 570 appointments made Monday, he said they’re “not speedy, but careful. We want to have a satisfied patient base.”
The 100-year-old dental school ranks in the nation’s top 10 for funding and is recognized as “one of the best clinical schools,” boasted Michael Till, the school’s dean.
The path of the dental student is different from those in medical school, he said. Clinical experience begins in the third year for dental students, while medical students graduate and then work in a clinical environment.
During the first two years, students learn technical aspects of the dental trade that they will later use on live patients, Till said.
Luther Ison, a supervisor and teacher at the labs, said that while the exercises on the metal heads provide a technical foundation, the real challenge is learning to work with live patients.
“Like medicine — how do you know if you have a good doctor or a bad doctor? It’s a matter of trust,” Ison said.
Second-year dentistry student Bryan Vibeto worked beside some of his 86 classmates in a pre-clinical lab Monday.
The bottom drawer of his workspace is piled with green and yellow plaster teeth molds, a sampling of the hundred or so impressions these students have crafted along their journey from the lab to the living.
The fact that the clinics offer a wide spectrum of dental service — from emergencies to orthodontics and facial deformity care — draws a diversity of people to the University clinics, Olin said.
So does the cost, which runs at 50 to 75 percent of the typical dental bill, he added.
Families can come to the University and be treated simultaneously, which is another advantage of a large clinic, Till said.
“The downside for patients is the time involved in visits,” he said.
The undergraduate clinic isn’t risky; it usually just takes more time because the students doing the work are less experienced, said Bradford Morse, a part-time faculty member who observes students.
“All the work is checked by faculty,” he said.