saw the darn thing a year or two ago at the Star of the North Meeting and it
fascinated me. It was the new fangled dentist/patient simulation unit soon to
be installed at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. For me it held
the fascination of the mechanical bull at Gilley’s Bar in the movie “Urban
Cowboy”. Now, just by the known fact that I have practiced the art and science
of operative dentistry successfully for 35 years, I kind of had an inkling how
my brother Jon, a rider of real bulls, must have felt when he saw his first
mechanical one. We obviously know how to do this and do it well, but how would
we stack up against this virtual reality training device?
The Minnesota School of
Dentistry booth at the Star of the North is a very popular place, so as fate
would have it I didn’t have a chance to try my hand at challenging the
cyber-beast. Still, thoughts of it haunted me. My dear friend and editorial
colleague Claudia Kanter and Dean Patrick Lloyd had beckoned me constantly to
come and enjoy the “Sim” experience.
The contemplation of it
troubled me. Some people “sit a horse well”, that is, they are able to maintain
a perfectly upright posture no matter what the machinations of the devious equine
character upon which they are perched. Not so for me. Horses terrorize me. I do
everything I can to hang on, anxiously awaiting the end of the ride when I can
woozily plant my feet on terra firma. I do, however, sit a golf cart very well.
I am proud to say I have never been thrown nor lost one of my golfing
companions, including the peripatetic Al Quam.
For months I planned in
the back of my mind how I would tame this silicone-powered beast. I knew for
sure I would need to bring my operating telescopes as reading glasses certainly
wouldn’t do the trick. I knew I was expected to sit bolt upright and operate
from a distance beyond the focal length of said telescopes. Having just
returned from the Vatican,
it occurred to me that, hey, did Michelangelo sit bolt upright and tap his
chisel gently at a distance when he created the “Pieta”? No. When I work, I
need to get up close and personal.
So there I was, one day
in December, led on a tour of the wonderland that is the newly remodeled dental
school, escorted by Dr. Judith Buchannan and observed by the easily amused Ms.
Kanter as I saddled up to break the rangy Mustang, the simulator’s dental
challenge of an occlusal amalgam preparation on tooth #19.
Things went swimmingly
until my posture became a problem. I did fine, but the camera and computer and
the way I was sitting prevented me from making things perfect. Chastened, I
took my souvenir tooth and returned home, a solid “B” student. Nothing has
changed grade-wise in 35 years. (In fact, I was a “B” student in deacon
It wasn’t until I
returned to the familiar surroundings of my home operatory, with my excellent
dental assistant, Julie, that I realized I don’t sit behind the patient and I never have. I work from the side, I guess
you would say at the ten or eleven o’clock position. The patient is up in my
focal range, and all is well. I felt much better. Like most people, I have the
recurring dream about having to return to school as a student. I do enjoy
returning to the dental school in my present capacity, as a grizzled old
veteran dentist, asked to share some wisdom garnered from years of successes
and failures in private practice.
The Simulation Clinic and
the “Center for Contemporary Dentistry” (otherwise known as Nirvana), have put our school of dentistry
at the forefront of dental education. We will turn out whole generations of
students who won’t suffer from the back problems and aches and pains that have
plagued dentists for generations. They will have firsthand knowledge of the
very latest in dental equipment and techniques, and be able to prepare to
proceed and succeed through practice.
If you haven’t taken a
tour of the dental school recently, go. It will make you proud. It should make
you donate some time, talent, or treasure. It is the future of our profession.
*Dr. Stein is
Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minn.,