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At the intersection of dentistry and BeAM MakerSpace technologies

Clark printed The Old Well and rocket in her BeAM learning sessions.
Wendy Auclair Clark, DDS, MS, is bringing dentistry clinical solutions to life at BeAM MakerSpaces. An assistant professor at the UNC Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry in the preclinical simulation lab, Clark understands that integrating technology into the field of dentistry can have a tangible, long-lasting impact within the clinical setting.

After experiencing the tools available at BeAM, Clark recognized the value of integrating BeAM technologies into her courses. “From orthodontics to removable crowns and aesthetics, so much of dentistry is going digital and now requires an understanding of CAD/CAM workflow,” Clark says. “I quickly realized there was an opportunity to combine BeAM with the digital content in an updated dentistry curriculum.”

With this in mind, Clark introduced her students to the Murray Hall MakerSpace to take BeAM 101 and 3D printer training. “ These classes served as an entry point to BeAM and showed students the relevance and application of technology to dentistry,” she explains. “While we presume students are familiar with technology, it’s important to start training at square one to customize and support their learning experience.”

Clark and associate professor of dentistry Ingeborg De Kok in the Murray MakerSpace.
Clark collaborated with Anna Engelke, education program manager at BeAM, to successfully incorporate BeAM into more dentistry courses. Engelke now assists with virtual training sessions in Clark’s classes in which students collaborate to develop, design, and print projects using TinkerCAD. “Throughout their time in BeAM, students tie together innovation and design,” Clark says. “They have used the software and 3D printers in the MakerSpace to support their dental materials research while thinking about creative applications for real-world problems.” For example, students created an “ear saver” for masks to increase wearers’ comfort.

BeAM-integrated courses are now incorporated into the dental school’s curriculum as soon as students begin the program. “Beginning this summer, first-year dentistry students will engage with BeAM within their first few months on campus as part of the student boot camp,” Clark explains. “Establishing this mindset of innovation and creativity is an important basis for their entire careers. I believe it is important to introduce these concepts early on and continually weave them throughout students’ collegiate experience.”

A dental student’s class project designed and printed at the MakerSpace to store their work from lab courses.
Clark adds that some students have taken BeAM’s entrepreneurial mindset one step further and purchased their own 3D printers to continue Making.

“Thanks to the unique exposure and opportunity of being around MakerSpace technology, students are now interested in printing their own work,” she says. “They have created models of their own teeth and dental implants to use for patient education. I encourage my students to complete additional training and to utilize MakerSpace resources for research projects after our class concludes.”

Beyond the value of applying the design and Making available in BeAM to solve clinical problems, Clark also notes her students now have a better understanding of the conceptual aspects of dentistry. “Not only are students thinking outside the box about patient treatment solutions, but they have also said that technology has helped them better understand conventional workflows ,” she says. Whereas dental professionals have relied on traditional workflows in the past, Clark explains more accurate and permanent solutions for patients – like dental molds – can now be created via technology and digital techniques.

Clark has encouraged her students and fellow colleagues in the dentistry program to embrace technology at BeAM. “There is a perception that younger people are comfortable with technology, but this may not always be the case,” Clark says. “Any opportunity to use software and printers may help them be less fearful to implement new technologies.”

Ear savers designed by dental students during CAD training with Anna Engelke.
“For faculty, technology can be unfamiliar, overwhelming and intimidating as well,” she adds. “BeAM offers a fun way to learn basic tenets of technology which may guide them toward a digital workflow in a way they might not have considered before.” For instance, faculty can engage with the MakerSpace’s design software for direct application to workflows used in dental design software.

Learning is facilitated by BeAM staff members who are ready to support visitors and assist with Making. “There are so many people in the BeAM community who are there to help you succeed and to support your creative growth, even at the beginner level,” Clark agrees.

Looking ahead, Clark hopes that dental students will continue using BeAM to explore, design, and learn through hands-on opportunities. “Students are able to take what they have learned at BeAM and bring novel ideas into the community and clinical setting while boosting their confidence,” she adds. Clark hopes that there will eventually be a MakerSpace dedicated to the dental school.

For now, Clark is committed to enhancing her students’ dental education and encouraging further exploration at BeAM. “There are so many opportunities in the MakerSpaces for students and faculty to design, fabricate, and promote learning,” Clark concludes. “BeAM fosters curiosity and openness to new technologies which is an extremely valuable mindset within the dental field.”