Dental students train with corpses in UK first

Dental students at the University of Dundee have become the first in the UK to be trained to carry out surgical dental treatment on specially embalmed bodies.

The Thiel method of embalming which has been adopted by the university leaves cadavers with more life-like properties than those embalmed in the standard way.

Bodies are donated for the purposes of teaching, training and research, and arrangements for dental students to be able to be trained using the bodies were made though the universities Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification.

Now a pilot project has been successfully carried out with third-year students in the School of Dentistry, ahead of the bodies being more widely used for dentistry teaching.

‘The Thiel bodies give us an excellent and very lifelike way of training dentists before they have live patients,’ said Dr Christine Hanson, associate specialist lecturing in oral surgery at Dundee, who led the pilot project.

‘It is extremely difficult to give dental students an opportunity to practise in a way that gives them a realistic experience. Using simulators or mannequins, or even animal heads, does not offer the same experience and does not let them develop the kind of transferable skills that working on a body can.

‘Using live patients for training also presents significant problems. What the Thiel bodies allow us to do, because they are so flexible, is give students the sort of direct experience that is of huge value to them as developing dentists.

‘It is a fantastic opportunity for our students. We hope to explore a range of procedures, including the placing of dental implants, and I am convinced this will give them the sort of hands-on experience that we have never been able to offer before.’

Professor Sue Black and colleagues in the internationally renowned Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at the University’ who featured in the BBC television series ‘History Cold Case’ – have been at the forefront of adopting the Thiel method of embalming in Dundee.

‘The Thiel method gives surgeons, dentists, students and medical researchers a more realistic method of testing techniques, practising procedures and developing new equipment and approaches,’ said Professor Black.

‘We are the first university in the UK to exclusively use Thiel embalming and it is an area where, working together with other colleagues in the university, we can make real breakthroughs and change the face of scientific, medical and dental research and training.

‘As well as this very exciting opportunity for the dentists, we have been working with colleagues in the University’s Institute for Academic Anaesthesia who have found particular benefits in using the bodies to examine the effects of anaesthetics administered with the aid of ultrasound imaging.’

The university has launched a major fundraising campaign to build a new morgue to support the Thiel method.

The Million For A Morgue campaign aims to raise £1 million towards the cost of the project, with the university having already committed another £1 million.

The fundraising campaign has attracted the support of leading crime writers including Val McDermid, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs.

For more on the Million For A Morgue campaign, visit

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