The Dental School Experience Before Dental School

Touro College of Dental Medicine’s Pre-Dental Experience Takes Students on a Journey Through Dentistry

June 20, 2023
A participant in Touro College of Dental Medicine\'s Pre-Dental Experience uses a composite gun to create a filling.
42 college students and recent graduates joined Touro College of Dental Medicine's four-day Pre-Dental Experience in June.

“It’s like kindergarten,” Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM) faculty member Dr. Golda Erdfarb explained over a loudspeaker to several dozen university students. “Stay in the lines.”

However, instead of crayons, the students were using high-speed electric dental drills and the lines were shapes on a learn-a-prep tablet intended to mimic the enamel properties of teeth. The 42 students came from across the United States to take part in TCDM’s Pre-Dental Experience. Many of them were recent university alumni or college students eager to get a closer look at the reality of dental school. Each participant sat by a table in TCDM’s simulation lab with a large glass magnifier that doubled as a shield as they drilled a network of patterns before moving on to work on a set of plastic teeth. Several second-year TCDM students flitted to-and-fro offering help and guidance.

The four-day Pre-Dental Experience is the brainchild of TCDM faculty member Rebecca Block, DDS. Having undergone a pre-dental experience before she entered dental school, Dr. Block wanted to recreate the experience, with one large caveat.

What Being a Dentist is Like

“I wanted to give students a more hands-on experience,” reflected Dr. Block who sat next to Dr. Erdfarb in the simulation lab. “That was the part of the pre-dental experience I enjoyed the most—the simulation. It taught me what being a dentist would be like.”

Explaining the use of the hand-drill, Block continued: “It teaches hand-eye coordination. It tests whether you can control the drill and create the perfect shape—as well as sharpening your depth perception. As dentists, we measure things in millimeters. The difference between a millimeter and half-a-millimeter can be huge.”

Dr. Block’s focus on the hands-on experience of dentistry was paying off for Daniela Robau, a student in Florida International University, who flew in for the program. “It’s amazing,” said Robau about the program as she re-arranged the learn-a-prep tablet to focus on the plus sign that she would soon drill. “I love everything in the simulation labs, it’s so hands-on.”

“It’s like adult arts-and-crafts,” laughed University of Virginia student Gianna Tantillo.

As a bonus for the attendees, the pre-dental experience also enabled them to visit TCDM, New York’s newest dental school, and what many of the attendees said is their top choice for dental school.

“Touro is my number one,” explained Eden Babaev, a senior at St. John’s University studying biology. “I have friends and relatives in the program, and they all talk about how caring the teachers are. I think that in other programs, there’s an attitude of everyone being out for themselves. Here, I see everyone helps each other. My friends are here, and they love it.”

Exposing Students to Different Dental Careers

Touro College of Dental Medicine Dean Ronnie Myers, DDS, spoke of the power of exposing college students to the larger world of oral healthcare.

“This experience is incredibly important for the pipeline of individuals interested in oral healthcare,” Dr. Myers said. “Especially for those who may not have had the opportunity to think about healthcare as a career, this gives them an inside look at dentistry and oral healthcare.”

“When a lot of these students think of dentistry they think of general dentistry or pediatrics or oral surgery,” added Dr. Block. “There are a lot of other specialties in dentistry and other professions in dentistry that they don’t know exist until they’re here. They can see that they can study dentistry and become a radiologist. They can become an anesthesiologist or enter academia or research. They don’t know that these careers are possibilities until they discover it here.”

The program included lectures from TCDM professors about different specialties inside dentistry ranging from anesthesia to prosthodontics to ethics and six simulation labs. The labs included creating wax models of teeth; suturing; making molds; and learning the basics of digital dentistry by taking advantage of the dental school’s state-of-the-art facilities.

Learning about Touro

Over sushi during lunch on the second day of the program, students heard about Touro’s mission of serving the underserved, its new partnership in New Mexico and the expansive possibilities for student research.

TCDM second-year student Lani Lee who was volunteering for the program said that she had initially been nervous about helping the participants “We haven’t created wax models of teeth in a little while,” she said. “But as I was explaining how to do it, I realized that I remembered more than I thought I did. Volunteering here makes us realize how much we learned.”

Later in the day, participants practiced restoring teeth, by placing a filling, or restoration, in them. Explaining the first step, Dr. Erdfarb intoned: “Get rid of the shmutz, suction and get it dried off.” Later she compared creating the composite used in fillings to making a perfect peanut butter sandwich.

“I’m learning more here than I did in the dental assistant program I took,” laughed Ugval Patel, a rising senior in Northwestern University, as he squeezed a toothpaste-like substance out of a composite gun.

Leora Lehrfield, a senior at the College of Staten Island, heard about the program from a friend who did the program. Attending the program had convinced her friend that she wasn’t cut out to be a dentist. The program was having the opposite effect on Lehrfield.

“For me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a dentist, now I am.”