Spring 2019

Instrumental Elements

Today's first-year students get a head, and so much more.

By Helene Ragovin

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Photo: Alonso Nichols

That fellow in the center up there (1) appears to have a pretty nice set of choppers. Don’t be fooled—he’s got several years of dental treatments in front of him. The manikin head is just one item, from a set of dozens of instruments and supplies, provided to students at the School of Dental Medicine at the start of their first year. It wasn’t always this way: Students used to learn on a stand-alone typodont. “We never got a head,” said David Leader, D85, MPH13, lead practice coordinator for the second-floor predoctoral clinic. “I can see how it would be an advantage. It gives you an idea what it’s like to work around the lips and cheeks. We had to imagine.”

But there is plenty that comes in the several boxes of first-year supplies that will be familiar to students from years past. Take the red-blue pencil (2), once used for charting, still used to design partial dentures. The outlines of traditional silver fillings (3) can be traced back to the nineteenth-century work of dental pioneer G.V. Black. The wax-up tools (4) and the mixing spatulas (5) are old standards as well. The metal brush (6) was once for cleaning off a drill bit that was going to be used again. That’s not the clinical practice anymore, but it’s very handy for brushing off the bit after practicing on a typodont’s artificial teeth.

All these items are intended for preclinical practice. In the clinics, today’s students use instruments supplied by the dental school. But when Leader arrived in the fall of 1981, he and his classmates were given all the instruments they would need for four years of training. “I had quite a lot of difficulty getting all that stuff out of the eighth-floor lab and into my apartment on Boylston,” Leader remembered. Some of those instruments still reside in his old office in Malden, Massachusetts, now owned by two of his former students.

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