School of Dentistry

Simulation helps dental students understand impairment

Third-year dental students participated in a pilot program known as the Geriatrics and Special Care Experiential Learning Experiences
Noorpreet Kaur, BDS, MPH, and assistant clinical professor, demonstrating the Geriatrics and Special Care Experiential Learning Experiences activity to third-year dental students

In October, a cohort of third-year dental students participated in a pilot program known as the Geriatrics and Special Care Experiential Learning Experiences. This unique initiative offered students an invaluable opportunity to gain firsthand insights into the lives of older adults living with disabilities, ultimately equipping them with a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by this vulnerable population. Up to one in four adults in the United States have some disability, including sensory and physical, and most of them live independently, facing barriers to performing activities of daily living.   

Under the guidance of Annetty Soto, DDS, associate professor and geriatrics dental director in the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry, students were exposed to a range of interactive simulation activities. These exercises were carefully designed to simulate the various hurdles encountered by frail patients with specific disabilities, fostering a more empathetic and holistic approach to patient care. 

One of the most striking activities involved replicates the experience of a patient with Parkinson's disease. This allowed students to understand the difficulties associated with fine motor skills, such as self-administering medication in the presence of rigidity and tremors. This exercise shed light on the importance of patient-centered care and the need for innovative solutions to facilitate self-care for older individuals living independently with such conditions. 

The program also explored the impact of vision impairment, mainly due to cataracts and glaucoma, on at-home oral hygiene practices. Students delved into the challenges faced by those with compromised vision, highlighting the necessity of adapting dental care instructions to cater to the unique needs of this demographic. 

The program also delved into the realm of sensory overload in individuals with autism and the challenges posed by hearing impairments. These activities were instrumental in fostering a deeper understanding of the unique needs and communication strategies required when providing dental care to individuals with these conditions. 

In addition to these activities, students gained invaluable insights into the patient intake experiences of someone with vision impairments, understanding the importance of thorough assessment and compassionate communication in delivering comprehensive health care to those most vulnerable in service-area communities. 

Soto, along with faculty members Jennifer Farrell, DDS, DABSCD, director of the Phil and Karen Hunke Special Care Clinic, and Noorpreet Kaur, BDS, MPH, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry, played pivotal roles in guiding and facilitating these transformative learning experiences. 

As part of this innovative pilot project, a virtual reality (VR) component is currently in progress under the leadership of School of Dentistry Dean Peter M. Loomer, DDS, PhD, MBA, and Suman N. Challa, BDS, MSPH, associate dean for advanced education programs and strategic initiatives. This project promises to enhance the experiential learning opportunities available to students, providing a cutting-edge platform for honing their skills in geriatric and special care dentistry. 

The Geriatrics and Special Care Experiential Learning Experience marked a significant milestone in the education of the third-year dental students, enabling them to develop a more profound appreciation for the challenges faced by the elderly living with disabilities. By immersing themselves in these practical scenarios, students have taken a meaningful step towards becoming more compassionate and competent health care providers, better equipped to serve this vulnerable and deserving population. The program exemplifies the commitment of the School of Dentistry to fostering a patient-centered approach to dentistry, emphasizing empathy and understanding as crucial components of comprehensive health care.

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