Open Wide

Once a year, Dr. Brenda Mulherin and colleagues in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences spend a better part of a Saturday working with veterinary students.

The demand for this dentistry “wet lab” is so great that Mulherin offers both a morning and afternoon session for 50 third- and fourth-year veterinary students.

“We are unable to accommodate everyone that wants to participate,” Mulherin said. “Some students already had to share equipment and machines.”

The lab is the only hands-on experience many of the third- and fourth-year students will receive in veterinary dentistry before they enter practice. An elective dentistry rotation is offered for fourth-year students in the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital but like the wet lab, demand is high and actually has a waiting list.

Mulherin, who is a Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental college, is the only dentistry instructor at Iowa State.

"This lab was incredibly valuable to the students who participated since dentistry is an elective course at Iowa State, so not everyone gets the experience before they graduate," said Halie Paul, a third-year veterinary student and president of the Dental Club.

The dentistry wet lab features a pre-lab lecture prior to both the morning and afternoon sessions. Prior to the wet lab, each student has completed an online veterinary dentistry course through the University of Illinois.

“I took this wet lab to build on the things I learned in the online small animal dentistry course I took in the fall,” said Casey Alcorn, a third-year veterinary student.

The lecture and the on-line course are important but the students come for the hands-on experience they receive during their session. The students learn how to work with dental tools and machines and practice surgical extractions and suturing of the oral cavity on cadavers.

“More than anything else I learned the importance of small animal dentistry and the immense amount of patience that is needed to extract a tooth,” Alcorn said.

“I want them to gain confidence in their abilities in the oral cavity and at least to have extracted a tooth before they enter private practice,” Mulherin said.

For Alcorn and her fellow veterinary students, the wet lab gave them the confidence they needed as they enter either their fourth year of veterinary school or private practice.

“I had never done this type of procedure before,” Alcorn said. “I feel like this wet lab gave me a unique opportunity that other wet labs haven’t. I have no doubt the skills I learned here will help me out in my fourth year and my future career.”