First graduates help fill North West dental gap

It’s smiles all round for the first 30 dental students who have completed their studies at the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) £5.25 million School of Dentistry.

During their training the students have seen more than 5,000 patients, undertaken nearly 9,500 fillings and providing treatment ranging from preventative advice up to quite advanced procedures.

The students are the first to complete their course in an entirely new model of dental education based on training in community.

UCLan’s School of Dentistry came about as a result of a close co-operation between the University and the NHS who were keen to support the training of dentists in the local area.

Not only would the students provide dental treatment during their training; but it was envisaged that many of them would stay to work in the locality after qualification.

21 of the 30 graduates have secured their mandatory training places in the North West and hope to remain in the region to enhance local NHS dental services. When it opened its doors in September 2007, it was one of two new schools to be created in England for over 100 years.

To help mark their achievements the graduates were joined recently by Barry Cockcroft, chief dental officer, at a celebration dinner, held at UCLan’s Westleigh Conference Centre.

Professor Lawrence Mair, head of the School of Dentistry at UCLan, said the university’s new dentistry model has been a huge success.

He said: ‘When I qualified in 1975, I went straight into dental practice and was profoundly grateful to everyone who had taught me practical dentistry. Clinical experience has been at the root of our approach because dentistry is a skill and skills develop through practice.  We have, of course, also provided an excellent academic foundation for our students and I’m very grateful to all the teachers, specialists and consultants who have helped established the school. We are all very grateful to all our dental nurses, receptionists and technicians who have supported the students through what can sometimes be a challenging experience.’

UCLan’s School of Dentistry was the first to pioneer a new mode of dental education, in which the students gain their experience in local community Dental Education Centres (DECs) rather than city centre hospitals. The concept has provided a good alternative to the traditional approach.

The DECs, located in Accrington, Blackpool, Carlisle and Morecambe Bay, were established in areas of high need and poor dental health where access to NHS dentistry was limited, in part, owing to difficulties in attracting qualified dentists to the area.

UCLan invested £5.25 million in a state-of the-art dental school in Preston which has one of the most sophisticated ‘phantom head’ rooms in Europe where students learn their skills on simulators before progressing to patients. Towards the end of their first year, students begin training at one of the four DECs, which then becomes their base for the next three years of clinical practice.
As the clinical students are based in the DEC’s, located across the North West, the School has invested heavily in high tech videoconference equipment so that students can not only see the lecturer in Preston, but also see and hear their colleagues in the other centres.
Barry Cockcroft said: ‘I’m delighted that the first dental students from the new School of Dentistry at the University of Central Lancashire have graduated.
‘The government has made a clear commitment to further improve access to NHS dental services and to introduce a new contract focusing on improving the oral health of the population with a particular focus on improving the oral health of children.
‘With its innovative approach to dental course delivery within a primary care setting, the University of Central Lancashire is playing a major part in realising those objectives.’

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