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11 March 2022
Dentistry 2.0: New Upgraded and High-Tech Laboratories

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) Dentistry Faculty – Africa’s biggest dentistry school – launched new technical laboratories in Mitchell’s Plain Melomed Centre on Monday September 10.

The state-of-the-art laboratory uses virtual patient-training technology, including a simulator with a set of acrylic teeth which is an exact replication of human teeth. The pre-clinic laboratory is used to train third year students before they work on patients at the clinic – after working on the virtual models for nine months, students have to be skilled and confident enough to work with equipment that could cut through a human mouth.

In addition to the virtual training provided at Mitchell’s Plain, UWC students also do in-service training at Groote Schuur Hospital, Red Cross Hospital, Gugulethu Clinic and Tygerberg Hospital.

For third year student Gillori van der Linde, her studies got off to an unpromising start. The theoretical aspects of first year dentistry were not her favourite part of the learning experience. Luckily by second semester she could get her hands dirty working with cadavers, which she enjoyed a bit more

“Dentistry is about so much more than drilling and cleaning teeth. Many serious illnesses like HIV/Aids can be detected through dental examinations,” said Van Der Linde. Working with the patients at Melomed, and seeing how their lives are improved by the dental care they receive, has been a highly rewarding experience for Van Der Linde. Once she becomes a qualified dentist, she plans to volunteer in parts of Africa where quality dental care is sorely needed.

Welkom’s Kgomotso Setai also had a noble dream of making the world smile. “I always had a fascination with teeth. The way people smiled when they left the dentist had made me want to become one since I was nine years old,” said Setai. “The part I like the most about dentistry is the people I have met and who come from all walks of life. There was one incident where a 35-year-old woman had not had teeth for five years. When we gave her new dentures she could not stop smiling. Having new teeth gave her enough confidence to apply for a job after having being unemployed for years.”

Professor Yusuf Osman, Dean of the Dentistry Faculty, believes the facility provides a very important and much-needed service. “These students are entrusted to deliver a service to 120 000 people a year. This dental facility is a basis for skills and service embedded in the Mitchell’s Plain community,” said Professor Osman.

Professor Brian O’Connell, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of UWC, said the laboratory was a perfect example of the digital revolution now taking place in Africa. “This facility has changed the Cape culture perception of dental care. You as dentists have such a positive influence on your patients. In the past children were encouraged to have their teeth removed from the age of five. These days dentists would rather ask children why they would want to remove their teeth with so many other options available,” said O’Connell.

UWC’s Chancellor, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, also commended the faculty for embodying the University’s ideals. “As wonderful as technology is, it sometimes prevents people relating to each other. Through this laboratory you have combined technology and the human element in your search for knowledge – and when you create knowledge you create hope,” said the Archbishop.