New hi-tech lab opens at Wits to train oral health professionals

Training of dental science students had been interrupted by 2021 fire at Charlotte Maxeke hospital which rendered laboratories inaccessible.  

The Wits Health Sciences Campus has a brand new dental skills laboratory as of August 12, to fully equip students with the necessary training to provide quality healthcare to their future patients.

The lab’s opening is significant for health sciences students who could not access labs located at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital after a fire in April 2021 gutted the hospital and interrupted learning and training.

Shaun Du Plessis, a second-year BA dental science student, said, “I was lost for words when I first saw the new dental skills lab. We now have a place where we can receive excellent training, to learn and prepare to treat patients in the future. Patients will also be more at ease knowing the person treating them received the best training that there is.”

The lab coordinator, Professor Judith Bruce said, “The new lab is a huge improvement on the labs that were formerly located within the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. It is spacious, modern and well-equipped and therefore, it is anticipated that both students and staff will have a more positive experience of their respective roles.”

The lab currently has two sections: the phantom heads section and the prosthodontic section. The former is fitted with 41 head simulators while the latter enables students to learn techniques of replacing or repairing teeth.

A phantom head simulator and computer at the new dental skills lab at the health sciences faculty. Photo: Busisiwe Mdluli

Bruce said that the next phase of the lab, the installation of additional 41 simulators, is expected to be complete by the end of the academic year. She added that the creation of the lab was reaffirmation of the faculty’s commitment to preserving and advancing oral health science. “[This may be done] through introducing new programmes that aim to diversify oral health care professionals and increase the number of students within the field,” she said.

A prosthodontic (a specialist in replacing and restoring teeth) and lecturer at the faculty, Dr Meriting Thokoane, said that the lab aims to teach students skills such as how to use dental hand instruments for oral hygiene procedures, to acquire radiographs, plan orthognathic surgery (corrective jaw surgery) and fabricate dentures, and design denture prescriptions.

“[The] technology used in the dental laboratory [consists of] non-immersive screen-based virtual reality such as Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacturing. [The lab also has] digital technology in the form of intra-oral cameras, optical scanners, and the use of microscopes for endodontic (diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the dental pulp) training,” she said.

Bruce said that the faculty of health science aims to strengthen its partnership with the Gauteng department of health by ensuring that oral health professionals are well-trained in appropriately resourced facilities.

“This will help communities to access not only basic oral health services of high quality but also receive expanded services they’ve not had before and that will enable an improved quality of life,” she said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits dental skills lab. Photo: Busisiwe Mdluli