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“Sophomore Year” by Richard C. Meyer, 1964

The May 1964 issue of the Washington University Dental Journal was devoted to “A Future in Dentistry.”  Its purpose was to give the school’s alumni information that they could pass on to any patients who might be interested in dentistry as a career.  A series of articles, each written by a member of the four classes, explained “Life in Dental School.”  This article about Sophomore Year was written by Richard C. Meyer, who graduated in the Class of 1966.

Richard C. Meyer ’66

The curriculum is so planned that about half the in-school hours are spent on preclinical technic courses in crown and bridge, operative and prosthetics.  The other half is devoted to the sciences of pathology, pharmacology and bacteriology.  The courses mentioned are not the only ones in the sophomore year, but they are the ones to which the most time is devoted.  Other courses include radiology, oral diagnosis, local anesthesia, endodontics and pre-clinical dental medicine.

Crown and bridge deals with the construction of porcelain and metal restorations and bridges.  The student develops the proper technics in casting of metals and baking porcelain.  Prosthetics presents the technics involved in the construction of complete dentures and the technic and theory of design of partial denture construction.  Operative dentistry gives the student experience in the manipulation of amalgam, gold foil, inlays, cements and other restorative materials.  Pre-clinical dental medicine, which is given in the third quarter, introduces the student to clinical methods, routines, and objectives, thus preparing him for the beginning of his clinical experience.

It is in these courses that the principles and fundamentals of the technics employed in dental procedures are presented.  Although the emphasis is placed on the laboratory portion, each course includes an indispensable lecture series.  These lectures cover the theories of design, construction and tooth preparation, in addition to discussions concerning the proper time for a particular treatment to be used.  Thus, the student becomes more fully aware of his forthcoming responsibilities.

From the other side of the curriculum comes pathology, which is covered in two parts: general and oral.  General pathology familiarizes the student with the disease processes and tissue reactions in the body.  The more basic concepts include inflammation, wound healing, cancer and circulatory disturbances.  With this background, the pathology of the various organ systems of the body is taken up.  The lab consists of studying slides and specimens.

Oral pathology applies the principles learned in general pathology to the problems confronted in the oral cavity.  The course is intensive and by necessity one that is highly specialized, for it is this area that is of most interest to the dentist.  We should note that the oral cavity is a common site for the occurrence of cancers, and that numerous systemic diseases can be diagnosed by manifestations of these diseases in the oral cavity.  For these reasons pathology is a major course in preparing the student to recognize and treat most lesions in the oral region, thus extending the treatment beyond just filling teeth.

Pharmacology is a lecture course that covers the chemical structures and modes of action of drugs used in medical practice.  Emphasis is placed on the drugs which have the greatest interest to dentistry.  Instructions are given in the methods and form of prescription writing so that the dentist can effectively prescribe drugs to treat pain, inflammation or for any other reason he may feel it is necessary to administer medication.  Since many patients are taking drugs prescribed by a physician, the dentist must understand the reason the drugs are being used and their action, so that his treatment will not conflict with that of the physician.

Bacteriology is a lecture and lab course which deals with the biology of microorganisms, particularly virus and bacteria, the phenomena of immunity and host-parasite interrelationship.  The types of organisms in the mouth are highly varied, and all are numerous.  Their prominence in the oral cavity is explained by easy accessibility and because the warm, moist environment favors the growth of most organisms.  Evidence suggest that bacteria are related to the decay process and to periodontal complications.

For these reasons a comprehensive study of bacteriology is essential to a dental school curriculum.  Lab consists of performing various culturing technics and serologic tests.

As the student approaches the end of the sophomore year, he is confronted with National Board examinations.  These tests, conducted by the Council of the National Board of Dental Examiners of the American Dental Association, are given in two parts.  The first part covers the basic sciences and is given late in the sophomore year.  The second part covers the more clinical aspects of dentistry and is given in the senior year.  The tests are administered to insure that forthcoming dentists have sufficient skill and knowledge to provide the public with a high standard of care.

But alas, and happily I might add, school cannot be all school.  A person must have a place to live and outside activities to occupy what free time he can manage.  Let it suffice to say that in St. Louis there are enough activities to insure that Jack will not become a dull boy.  For a single person going to dental school, living in Olin Hall is by far the most convenient arrangement.  Olin is the medical school dorm located directly across the street from the dental school.  Medical, dental, occupational and physical therapy students live there.  The medical school is directly west of the dorm, thus giving a resident immediate access to the medical and dental libraries.  Barnes Hospital cafeteria is less than half a block away, providing a convenient place to eat.

Olin comes complete with a snack bar, laundry facilities, gym, a penthouse for parties and upper classmen ready to lend a hand when you’re having problems.

Just as school takes time, it also takes money, and most students work in the summer in order to help out with the finances.  St. Louis is a busy place and jobs are available – the problem is finding them.  The main campus of Washington University maintains a student employment service which is a good starting place when looking for summer work.  Upper classmen can suggest places where they have worked in the past.

The dental school grants a limited number of paying research fellowships for the summer and school year.  The fellowships offer an excellent opportunity for a student to advance his knowledge in an area of interest to him.

You will remember that in discussing the curriculum I divided it into two main areas – technic courses and science courses.  It must be emphasized however that no such real division exists and that it was merely for the sake of discussion.  Every area of study overlaps into other areas.  The dental student is constantly made aware of the fact that he must be concerned with the patient as an entire, single, functioning unit and not be limited in scope to a specific area.  Although the dentist, by profession is primarily concerned with oral health, he must constantly be aware of the overall, general health of the patient and consider this as his primary professional responsibility.


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