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Release: Immediate

Renovations bring high-tech teaching to UI College of Dentistry

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Students at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry are learning many aspects of patient care with help from 80 new "patients" -- advanced dental simulator units that let instructors offer more realistic lessons.

The units fill the Simulation Clinic, the centerpiece of the college's most ambitious renovation project in 25 years. The facility is perhaps the most advanced classroom of its kind in the nation. It also accommodates the college's growing array of high-tech educational resources, including World Wide Web-based instructional materials, interactive teaching tools that stress problem solving, and electronic clinic records.

"The Simulation Clinic and accompanying facilities are changing the way we teach at all levels, from first-year students to practicing dentists in continuing education courses," said David Johnsen, D.D.S., dean of the college. "The facilities have exceeded our greatest expectations."

Students learn procedures on models of teeth called dentiforms, which in the past were mounted on benches or held in the hand. Despite ingenious efforts to more realistically position dentiforms -- for instance, attaching them to poles laid in dental chairs -- the experience gave students limited preparation for treating real people.

The Simulation Clinic has changed all that. Each simulator in the new facility features a mannequin that reclines as if it were in the dental chair. Students immediately learn to approach their work from above and behind, using mirrors and other instruments as they will with real patients. The mannequin's rubber cheeks and realistic jaw simulate the mouth's structure.

The facility has other advantages as well. It weaves some 14 miles of electronic cable into an information network that transmits video demonstrations to each student workstation. The system overcomes another traditional problem in dental education -- the ability to clearly view a demonstration by looking over an instructor's shoulder.

The video system offers multiple views of instructors at work, magnified to provide a close-up view of delicate procedures. Demonstrations can be taped and replayed as students repeat procedures themselves. The system also can be used to show slide images, X-rays and other helpful information.

Three radiology rooms within the Simulation Clinic let students practice making their own X-rays. Every student workstation is wired to accept a laptop computer, which someday may allow students to look up information on the Internet or the college's forthcoming electronic Oral Health Information System.

The Simulation Clinic is part of a $3.7 million renovation to education facilities at the UI Dental Science Building. The project also includes a support laboratory for pouring models and crafting dental appliances, a central dispensary for instrument and supply check out, a bench laboratory available after regular class hours, a 40-seat electronic classroom, faculty offices and a grading room.

Work on the facilities was completed late last year. Support from the college and the UI, private donations and a tuition surcharge for dental students funded the project.

The Simulation Clinic is designed primarily for first- and second-year students, but it is available to third-year students who want to polish their skills and fourth-year students preparing for dental board examinations. In January it also was the site for a hands-on continuing education course open to practicing dentists.