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What dental school was like 40 years ago

Dr. Wong demonstrating how sim lab used to be, with no gloves and hand holding the typodont.

Dentistry is an evolving field and new technology seems to be developing more rapidly each year. How have these innovations affected the dental school experience in the last half century? As a third-generation future dentist, I did some research by interviewing my father, Dr. Dennis Wong. I wanted to see how his experience at school was different from mine. My father attended dental school from 1975-1979 at University of California, San Francisco. He is exactly forty years ahead of me in his dental career. He has been a solo practitioner in the Bay Area since graduation.

Adriee: What are some advancements in dentistry that you have seen throughout your career?

Dr. Wong: Digital dentistry and technology have dramatically changed how dental services are delivered. With the increasing costs to buy equipment, it is now extremely expensive to start a practice. Overall the service remains the same. Over time I have seen an increase in insurance concerns, especially for new dentists.

Adriee: What was your experience with dentistry growing up (since your father is a dentist)?

Dr. Wong: In the old days, amalgam pellets were hand mixed to create the material for restorations. Naturally, as a kid, I used to play with the mercury. Other memories include watching the lab technician fabricating dentures. The smell of waxes and heat of the Bunsen burners in a small enclosed room was the norm. Also, grandpa took Vita ceramic courses and worked at home with a ceramic oven.

Adriee: Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the late 1970s when you were in school. Can you describe some things that were different from today?

Dr. Wong: The first thing that comes to mind is that we didn’t wear gloves when seeing patients. I had one classmate who brought a box of gloves and used them. We all thought he was crazy at the time. Now that I think of it, some professors did not even wear masks. Our clinic units had no high volume suction so we always cut dry on live patients’ teeth. To take impressions we used a material called hydrocolloid. This involved heating up a jelly material in a water bath. Once heated, the trays were cooled with tubes of water, allowing the material to set. Impressions always required having a friend nearby to turn on the water.

Adriee: What about in your pre-clinical days?

Dr. Wong: We all took handwritten notes. There was no such thing as the internet, so we were not distracted by Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. For research, we had to go to the library and use physical books. New advancements were hard to come by because of the turnaround time. In simulation lab, I had to hold the typodont in my left hand and drill with my right.

Adriee: What were your fondest and worst memories from dental school?

Dr. Wong: In my second year, half the class skipped school after anatomy midterm. We took a trip to the local ski slopes four hours away. The worst was frantically finishing removable prosthodontic cases before graduation. After graduating, some nights I woke up worrying about lab work I needed to complete.

Adriee: What are some aspects of my dental school experience that seem exciting to you?

Dr. Wong: All the technology you get to work with. It was unthinkable during my dental school years. It is wonderful that schools have CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics) scanners and milling machines in clinic. It will be exciting to see the advancements during your time in dental school.

Adriee: What is some advice that you’d like to give current dental students?

Dr. Wong: There are more techniques and materials to use other than those taught in school. This means that there is more for you to learn. Keep up with your lifelong learning by attending classes and seminars. Be the best dentist that you can be.

Dentistry has come a long way since days of no gloves and no internet. Technology has added tools for dentists to use to increase efficiency and quality. As a millennial, I am excited for the opportunities technological advancement provides for dentistry.

~Adriee Wong, Detroit Mercy ’19, chapter secretary, District 6 social media chair

Adriee Wong

Adriee is a Californian who decided to move across the country for a great education and to discover what winter is really about. She is a member of the Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry Class of 2019 and enjoys being active in ASDA and other student organizations. When not in school, Adriee enjoys making dental themed crafts and going across the border to eat all you can eat sushi in Canada.

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  1. I think the biggest takeaway from this post is the importance of continuing to stay up to date with the current dental trends. Obviously it is easy to see how much dentistry has advanced in the last 40 years, but even just going back 5 years you will see some differences in how things are done due to new technology and studies.

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