HGTC’s new dental facility is at the head of the class

June 10, 2012 

— When you first enter the room, the set of false teeth on the arm of the chair nearest the door stands out like a pimple on the face of a beauty queen.

As with the pimple, your eye is repeatedly drawn back to the teeth, a seeming incongruity amid the glitz and gleam of the new dental simulation lab in Horry-Georgetown Technical College’s just-debuted addition to the Dr. Robert E. Speir Jr. Healthcare Education Center on the Grand Strand Campus.

Unlike the pimple, though, you come to see after an explanation by Phil Render, HGTC associate vice president and dean of health sciences, that the set of teeth is really a beauty mark that enhances rather than takes from the visual impression of the lab filled with dental chairs and computer screens.

The lab – which may be the most high-tech in the Southeast – is perhaps the first bragging point of the new facility with HGTC officials, but the overall facility is impressive for a number of reasons.

Next door to the simulation lab on one side is the materials lab, where the school’s dental assistant and dental hygiene students learn how to take impressions, make temporary crowns and polish restorations and fillings, among other things. On the other side is the school’s new dental clinic, where students will continue to give their approximately 3,000 Grand Strand patients primary dental care and will team up with seniors from the dental school at the Medical University of South Carolina to offer some higher-level care as well.

The partnership of students from the two schools, Render said, will give both experience working with the other that will make each more valuable to dental practices upon graduation.

MUSC students aren’t the only outside visitors the new dental complex is likely to have, either. Practicing dentists and their staff members are expected to use the facilities and associated classrooms for required continuing education and to test the newest in dental equipment to see if they want to purchase it for their offices.

The completion of the complex brings together all of HGTC’s allied health education courses under the roof of the old hospital for the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base and the adjoining addition.

The school purchased the hospital in 2004, and HGTC President Neyle Wilson said officials made a decision at that time to hold off on moving the dental facilities from the Conway campus because the equipment the school had then was still up-to-date with years of viable teaching life ahead.

When the school decided to make the move, a team was formed to recommend what it should look like and what should be included. The team consisted of Alice Derouen, department chair of dental sciences and chair of the dental hygiene program, Pam Moyers, coordinator of the expanded duty dental assistant program, and Jamie Sawyer, professor of dental hygiene and assisting. Render served as an adviser to the group and the chief presenter when items went before the college board for approval.

Wilson said the requests made some pause and think about the cost-benefit of the expensive requests, but in the end board members decided to approve all the committee sought in what became a $7.4 million project.

“We wanted to be ahead of the curve,” Wilson said.

That’s why the simulation lab is the only digital facility among South Carolina’s technical college system and one computer generation ahead of the simulation lab at MUSC’s dental school. Wilson said he understands that it will take money for HGTC to keep up with fast-changing technology, but he believes the school will be able to do that with revenue sources it already has.

Render said he believes the technology in the new simulation lab will be viable for a decade.

The new simulation lab, as well as the materials lab and clinic, all feature centralized teaching stations where instructors can monitor students’ work as well as project assignments to laptops or video screens at each work station. Two monitors are in each of the clinic’s stations, one behind the patient where the dentist, hygienist or assistant can see close-up the teeth they’re working on, and one in front of the patient where the same picture – or a rerun of Gilligan’s Island, for instance – can be projected to the patient.

In the two labs, overhead cameras will be able to show work in progress and project assignments to screens in front of students or to classrooms on the second floor of the new facility. The three classrooms – one can accommodate 80 students – will be shared with students in the bachelor of science in nursing program at Coastal Carolina University.

Render and Moyers could no doubt talk for hours about HGTC’s dental spiffiness, but you find as they speak that your attention is drawn back to the teeth on the arm of the chair.

They’re encased in a plastic, flesh-like structure perhaps two inches high. Almost involuntarily, your hand reaches toward the teeth and your curious mind is on guard for a command to stop from your tour guides.

It doesn’t come and you find yourself stroking the pliable material that may look like flesh, sort of, but feels like plastic. You discover that the “lips” can be moved and you tweak the upper one so that more of the top row of teeth is exposed.

Neat, you think.

“Is this it?” you ask Render. “Is there more?”

Yes, he answers, there is more.

If it wasn’t enough to have teeth lying there on the arm of the chair for students and professionals to study and work on, the school also has a supply of simulated heads.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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