As the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Dentistry moved to remote learning and halted routine dental care in 2020, it purchased Optima mobile dentistry equipment for its students to use at home to continue building their clinical skills.
Prior to the pandemic, UNMC dental and dental hygiene students and residents worked with approximately 70,000 patients annually in the college’s dental clinics and extramural rotations to build their clinical skills.
With that experience limited due to the pandemic shutdown, students then used the mobile handpiece systems to complete hands-on clinical exercises like preparing a tooth for a crown or treating a cavity.
“The Optima units were incredibly helpful,” said Brook Appelhans, a fourth-year dental student. “I was so glad that the college provided us with a solution so that we could get a clinical learning experience from home.”
In April 2020, the college’s reentry task force partnered with the UNMC Division of Infectious Diseases to create a clinical manual to use as a guide for treating patients during the pandemic.
In May 2020, when the Nebraska Dental Association recommended that routine dental care could resume, the college transformed the clinical environment and operations, including changing treatment approaches, redesigning the patient experience, and using COVID-19 testing for certain dental procedures.
The testing data was used and continues to be used to help further drive decisions on clinical operations and safety, UNMC said.
“The College of Dentistry has gone above and beyond in adapting to the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Nick Hofmaier, a second-year dental student. “Faculty and staff have gone the extra mile to make sure that our education has not been impacted.”
Throughout the pandemic, the college has stood out nationally, UNMC said. All 2020 dental and dental hygiene graduates finished their clinical educational requirements, graduated on time, and secured employment or started advanced education programs.
As UNMC adjusted safety measures in the fall, 100% of dentistry students were onsite for lab classes and to treat patients. First-year students had a 100% in-person classroom and hands-on educational experience. These accomplishments were uncommon among dental schools, UNMC said.
The school also started an evening clinic in October 2020 to offer students as many clinical educational experiences as possible and offer patients convenient, after-hours care.
“As this challenging time has shown, the College of Dentistry has and always will offer students the best possible educational experience,” said Janet Guthmiller, DDS, PhD, dean of the UNMC College of Dentistry.
“The UNMC College of Dentistry community will never falter from our shared commitment to excellence in education, patient care, and research, no matter what challenges we face,” Guthmiller said.