'Digital microscopes' for dentistry course

June 05, 2002

ANN ARBOR---The conventional light microscope may soon become the next historical artifact found in the University of Michigan School of Dentistry's Gordon H. Sindecuse Museum. Dental students who have been using the device in some of their classes are now using the latest technology instead.

Dr. Carl Hanks, a professor in the Department of Oral Medicine, Pathology, and Oncology, and Dr. Nisha D'Silva, an assistant professor in the same department, have redesigned one course in the School's curriculum so that students will no longer need to use the device invented by Anton van Leeuwenhoek in the 17th century.

Hanks and D'Silva are developing a 21st century approach to learning histopathology. They are creating a "virtual textbook" that allows dental students to learn about pathology and histology in a novel way.

Using resources, including the World Wide Web, the School of Dentistry's intranet, and computer centers in the dental school and across the U-M campus, dental students use their laptop computers and high-speed Internet connections to view digital images of more than 50 different tissues.

The tissues have been collected from patients who have been treated for an array of maladies at School of Dentistry clinics since the 1940s and stored on slides. While the glass-mounted sections of actual tissues are helpful to demonstrate the appearance of oral diseases, they fade, crack, break, and dry out. Without an instructor present, they do not fully convey to a student the critical aspects of a disease process.

However, digital microscopy does. With their computers, dental students use their monitors as surrogate microscopes and view the enlarged images, which previously were on slides, in an electronic environment in low-, medium-, or high-powered resolution.

"This user-friendly approach is something our technically savvy dental students have come to expect and will increasingly demand in the future," said Dr. Thomas Carey, chair of the School of Dentistry's Department of Oral Medicine, Pathology, and Oncology.

"This way of learning offers enormous benefits," he said. "Every student in every lab sees exactly the same thing at the same resolution. The quality of the picture is also considerably sharper compared to what they might see under a 20-year-old microscope with poor optics. These substantially improved images, in turn, raise a student's awareness so he or she can see at a glance how various oral health problems can progress if they're not properly diagnosed and treated."

There are other benefits for students and faculty. "Faculty instructional time is more efficient. The digitized images can include arrows and descriptions of the important histologic features that distinguish diseases that require different treatments," Carey said. "Furthermore, actual cases can be used to walk students through computer-assisted decision trees for diagnosis and treatment which, in turn, reinforces lessons learned from the tissue histology."

Students benefit because digitized images can be reviewed anytime and any place there is a computer, rather than during a designated three-hour lab session.

Other benefits to the high-tech approach to learning are also being realized. The School avoids a huge financial commitment, in excess of $100,000, of replacing obsolete microscopes. And at a time when space is tight, approximately 5,000 feet of lab space can be used for other purposes.

Ultimately, patients will benefit from this new approach to education, Carey said. "In short, computer-based education for teaching pathology is helping our students feel even more confident and better prepared for what they will experience outside the walls of the School of Dentistry after they graduate."
The U-M School of Dentistry is one of the nation's leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care, and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the School to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia, and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit the Web at http://www.dent.umich.edu.

EDITORS: Photos are available on request.

The University of Michigan
News Service
412 Maynard
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1399

Jerry Mastey,
(734) 615-1971
Colleen Newvine,
(734) 647-4411

University of Michigan

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