Amy Reed: Technology enhances dental assisting learning

Amy Reed

Amy Reed, CDA, faculty member and chair of the dental assisting department at Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC), has worked at the college as an educator for 30 years. In that span, she has seen firsthand how technology can impact not only how dentistry is practiced, but also how dental assisting students learn to work in the dental office.

For example, in the past, hands-on learning was limited to working on live patients; now, technology can expand students’ knowledge base and applications.

Along these lines, Reed soon will be seeing another application for technology in dental assisting learning. Come spring 2021, PPCC’s newly opened Health Education Center in Colorado Springs is expected to house the college’s dental assisting program, among other healthcare programs. Currently, nursing and emergency medical services are the only two programs that have transitioned to the center as part of the first phase of construction; the plan is to transition the dental assisting courses there as part of phase two. 

The center also houses the region’s first interdisciplinary simulation lab featuring interactive manikins, which dental assisting students will be able to access. Through use of manikins, dental assisting students will be able to collaborate with the college’s other healthcare students on emergency preparedness exercises and more.

But perhaps what PPCC dental assisting students and faculty are most looking forward to is the new center’s dental materials lab, which will contain 12 simulators, representing a dental operatory. Reed adds that the PPCC dental assisting department plans to add computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing technology to the curriculum as well.

“This is going to be brand new,” says Reed, who has observed firsthand as a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) site visitor how a simulation lab can impact the classroom in a positive way. “I’m excited about this, absolutely. It’s going to offer students a richer experience. Because when you’re, for example, mixing a cement in a materials class, it’s one thing to just mix a cement — but it’s another thing to mix a cement and be able to go right to a manikin and place it in a prep. So, it takes the student experience to another level.”

Reed shares that she believes there’s “absolutely” a need for this type of technologically enhanced learning in dental assisting. “As the dental assisting profession and dentistry in general progress, students more and more need to be able to simulate as closely as possible what’s happening in the dental office when they’re here at school,” she says. “It makes their transition a little easier. And we’ll able to provide local dentists with more skilled dental assistants.”

Additionally, further incorporating technology into PPCC’s dental assisting program increases patient safety, Reed emphasizes. “If students make mistakes on the manikin, they’re less likely to make mistakes when they get to a live person.”

Providing access to online education

Reed also has observed that technology improves students’ access to educational materials — and teachers’ ability to provide it to them. For example, she’s seen the introduction of online course management systems, as well as interactive courses such as those offered by the DALE Foundation, DANB’s affiliate. In fact, DALE Foundation materials are made available to PPCC students to help them prepare to take DANB exams. Reed says students seem to find the DALE Foundation’s review courses to be helpful: “They’re engaging for students, and go beyond reading and then taking a test.”

PPCC students also are encouraged to take DANB exams. “We do recommend DANB certification to students,” says Reed, who has been certified through DANB since 1985. “The prime reason that we do is that many of the students who come through our program are affiliated with the military; we have a high military population in Colorado Springs, with many nearby military bases. And so many of my students are not apt to be practicing in Colorado. We always stress to them, ‘if you’re moving, mobility is one of the top benefits of DANB certification.’”

Reed also reminds them DANB certification is respected nationwide — and that this is a key reason not only to earn, but also to maintain, it. “Holding DANB certification shows a level of professionalism, which isn’t necessarily exhibited if you don’t have that credential,” she says.