Open wide: new teaching lab for dentists at KU Leuven


Patient simulators and digital technology bring dental education up-to-date

Phantom lab

Student dentists at KU Leuven have an impressive new teaching lab to explore this autumn. With its eerie rows of practice dummies, the university has anticipated likely nicknames and called the new facility the Phantom Lab.

Dentistry is a popular option at KU Leuven, with undergraduate numbers rising, and many students staying on for master’s programmes. With practical training just as important as the theory of dentistry, expanding and modernising the university’s teaching labs became a priority.

The new training centre, on the Gasthuisberg campus, has 120 training stations where students can master the manual skills of dentistry before being let loose on the public. Each station reproduces the set-up of a dental surgery, with a fully equipped and functioning chair, appropriate lighting and a phantom patient – essentially a life-size dummy with an open mouth.

“In the training centre, bachelor and masters students can practice all possible dental procedures, first on plastic teeth, and then on human teeth,” explained its co-ordinator, Els Wierinck.

This won’t hurt

The training begins with routine procedures such as drilling and filling, treating gum problems and taking x-rays. Then students can move on to more complex procedures, such as root canal and tooth replacement. “This preparation is crucial for the clinical internships in the later phases of training,” Wierinck said.

The centre has also embraced digital technology. Screens at each workstation allow students to follow closely procedures carried out by their teachers, and see all the necessary clinical data, such as x-rays and dental charts. They can then try the procedures for themselves.

In the longer term, KU Leuven hopes digital technologies will also help give students better feedback. “Individual counselling is crucial in the learning process, but not straightforward, given the increasing number of students,” explained Katleen Vandamme, director of the dentistry programme. “Digital learning platforms can offer a solution to this, for example by allowing us to analyse how much practice it takes a student to master a certain skill.”

Photo: Rob Stevens/KU Leuven