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Release: April 26, 2001

UI dental faculty combine textbook, interactive software

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Stephen Stefanac, D.D.S., set out to write a traditional textbook on dental treatment planning. But he and colleagues at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry created a package that combines the book with interactive software designed to let readers put the text's concepts to work.

The book, "Treatment Planning in Dentistry," published this year by Mosby, Inc., may be the first dental textbook to include interactive, computer-based simulations on CD-ROM. The simulations present real patient cases that illustrate the procedures laid out by Stefanac and co-authors in the text.

"Treatment planning varies from patient to patient, and although we're giving principles in this book, we couldn't provide students with real experience," said Stefanac, who is assistant dean for patient services at the UI College of Dentistry. To offer this experience, he worked with Lynn Johnson, the college's director of educational methodology and instructional technology. Johnson is nationally known for developing interactive software, particularly dental simulations.

"I've worked on simulations for a long time, and most of them tend to put their energy into gathering information and making diagnoses," she said. "They really hit a wall when they get to treatment planning, so this is pretty unique."

Methods for treatment planning -- developing a strategy to meet a patient's oral health needs that includes resolving disease, improving appearance and maintaining health -- vary among dentists. The lack of general guidelines inspired Stefanac and co-author Samuel Nesbit, D.D.S., of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry to tackle the topic. They aimed to collect a set of basic principles and to address topics that often go uncovered, such as caring for the elderly, people with disabilities and other patients with special needs.

The simulations included with their book direct users through increasingly complicated patient cases. They provide images of patients' mouths, dental x-rays, charts showing problem areas, and other findings from patient histories and examinations. Users select the information most relevant to treatment planning and proceed to determine priorities for dental procedures, patient education and preventive strategies.

The goal is to offer dental students and educators a framework for treatment planning that can be incorporated throughout the dental school curriculum. Stefanac and other College of Dentistry faculty members have used elements of the textbook/software package in teaching UI students. Typically, students will begin to learn treatment planning concepts their first year, then proceed through the simulations as they begin seeing patients in the second and third years of dental school.

Though the finished product complements a conventional print textbook with innovative software, the two media can be used independently. "The book supports the CD and the CD supports the book," Stefanac said. "But in the end, it came out almost like two separate projects -- very heavily tied, but still separate."