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Connecting students with the latest in dental technologies

September 17, 2018

By Kimber Solana

Innovation
Innovation: A fourth-year dental student examines a patient at the Dr. Charles Dunlap Innovation Center for Research and Education in Technology, which is in the University of Missouri – Kansas City dental school. The seven-chair clinic opened in 2012 in collaboration between the dental school and the Center for Research & Education in Technology.
Dr. Edward Rossomando thinks about the way technology has changed the dental profession.

“Imagine what happened when electricity was introduced into the dental practice,” he said. “That changed the way decay was removed.”

In this day and age, technological changes continue.

“But at a much faster pace,” said Dr. Rossomando, president of the Center for Research & Education in Technology, or CRET. “Things can be done in a dental office in minutes. Before, making crowns or prosthetics appliances took weeks.”

For him, the evolution in the practice of dentistry begs two questions: What will dentistry do? What will dental education do?

Dr. Rossomando is answering those questions through CRET, which was founded in 2004 by a group of dental industry leaders with a goal to expose dental students and faculty to the latest advancements in technologies available to dentists.

So far CRET, which is based in Westerly, Rhode Island, has partnered with three dental schools at Loma Linda University, University of Missouri – Kansas City and West Virginia University in creating innovation centers. Another innovation center is scheduled to open at the University of Mississippi this winter.

These centers are modeled on a private practice setting. CRET equips and continually updates these clinics with the latest in technology and products.

“What makes CRET so unique is that it brings together the manufacturers and distributors into a cohesive unit working together…[with] the school and students,” said Don Hobbs, CRET chair of the board and CEO. “The focus is not on any one company or distributor, rather it is all about exposing [the students and faculty] to the most up-to-date, innovative technologies available.”

Dr. Cain
Dr. Cain
Started in a closet

And to think that CRET started in a closet, Dr. Rossomando said.

“More accurately, it started because of equipment collecting dust in a closet,” he said.

In an effort to get their new technologies and equipment to students and faculty, dental manufacturers, in 2001, approached some dental schools and offered to donate their equipment.

“Without exposure to products and services that CRET represents, dental students have to learn and use the innovative products after graduation as opposed to it being central to the educational experience,” said Mr. Hobbs.

When the industry reached out to the schools a year later to see what the faculty and students thought of the donated items, Dr. Rossomando said, no one knew where the equipment was located.

“They turned to the janitor who tells them that they’re in the closet,” he said. “No one knew how to use them.”

In 2004, a group of about 10 dental manufacturers and dental industry leaders approached Dr. Rossomando to help them figure out how to go about working with dental schools. And CRET was created.

Dr. Rossomando
Dr. Rossomando
The group’s mission is “to develop a technology educational program for dental students, dental residents and dental faculty that will promote knowledge and competency in 21st century technology.”

Working with dental schools

The first school to build and open an innovation center with the help of CRET was Loma Linda. However, CRET had actually began working and communicating with the University of Missouri – Kansas City dental school first.

Dr. Marsha Pyle, UMKC dental school dean, recalls seeing an email from CRET around 2009 about their mission and goal on getting new technology in dental schools.

“At that same time, I had already wanted to create a setting, supported by curriculum, that brought together practice skills, technology and evidence-based decision making,” Dr. Pyle said. “I wanted the students to see the pros and cons of new technology coming into dental practices.”

After about three years of discussions and agreements, the 2,026-square-foot Dr. Charles Dunlap Innovation Center for Research and Education in Technology opened in 2012. The school provided the space for the seven-chair clinic, while the dental manufacturers equipped the operatories. The equipment, provided by CRET members, include dental chairs, cone beam X-ray, CAD/CAM, sterilization equipment, impression materials and electronic practice management systems.

Mr. Hobbs
Mr. Hobbs
“The most recent innovation center [at West Virginia University dental school] received about $800,000 in donated equipment and materials,” said Mia Cassell, CRET executive director. Today, CRET represents more than 25 dental manufacturers.

At UMKC, each room contains different equipment, allowing faculty, fourth-year dental students and dental hygienist students to rotate and use new technologies and products. Patients are brought in to the clinic for faculty-supervised assessments and treatment.

“The students can see these equipment side-by-side, and they can think about what will be best for them when they’re ready to be on their own in a practice setting,” Dr. Pyle said.

Discovering what works best

With dental technology and innovation advancing so fast, Dr. Andrea Cain said it’s important for her to stay in-the-know of the latest equipment and products available for her — even back when she was still a dental student.

Fortunately, she said, she attended West Virginia University School of Dentistry, which had the W. Robert Biddington Center for Dental Innovation — the latest innovation center CRET helped built.

As a fourth-year dental student, Dr. Cain had spent a two-week rotation in the 2,239-square-foot center, treating patients in one of the five state-of-the-art operatories.

“The innovation center is every dentist’s dream,” said Dr. Cain, a general practice resident at WVU dental school. “I was in a position where I had the ability to combine patient comfort, convenience and learn leading-edge technology to provide quality reliable oral health. A truly one-of-a-kind opportunity that I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to experience.”

It was at the innovation center where Dr. Cain said she found a true appreciation for restorative materials.

“As a student, we are limited to what is available in our main clinic,” she said. “As a comparison … at the innovation center, we are given the whole alphabet of restorative material options. This has greatly opened my eyes to what is available in the market, while I am allotted the chance to figure out what works best in my hands.”

After a full orientation of the center, Dr. Cain said, each student was assigned to a different operatory every day of their rotation. This allowed students to fully operate and learn each unit, use different dental products and equipment. These materials include intraoral light, suction, and automatic impression material mixer and dispenser.

“I discovered I enjoyed treating patients in units that are different than what I was previously trained to use in our main dental clinic, and surprisingly, this has greatly impacted my decision on what I plan to use in private practice.”

For more information and for dental schools interested in the CRET program, visit cretdental.org or contact the program at info@cretdental.org.