The University Dental Centre of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (UDC VUB) presented its new phantom lab at an opening event on 8 June. The renovated lab, equipped with 18 treatment units, will serve as a study space for postgraduate dentistry training. Dentists can hone their expertise and put their skills into practice there. The UDC itself has also been completely refreshed, allowing patients to be treated in a contemporary, up-to-date clinic.

In Part I, we had a conversation with Professor Dirk Devroey, Dean of Medicine and Pharmacy, and Inge Cornillie, general manager University Dental Centre.

Iris Wijn, hoofd Parodontologie van het Universitair Tandheelkundig Centrum in het fantoomlab

(c) VUB Jean Cosyn

Iris Wijn, head of Periodontology at the University Dental Centre

In the phantom lab, “phantoms” take centre stage. What are they?

These are model heads with teeth and jaws. Dentists and dentists in training can practise on them before working on real people. A reassuring thought, right? Another advantage is that you can show lots of people how to do it at the same time and they can try it themselves straight away. Phantoms also come in very handy when you want to test new material. How does it feel? How can you work with it?

What does periodontology entail ?

We treat everything that holds teeth in place: gums, bone, paradontal ligaments and the root of the tooth. Problems often include loss of attachment, in which case the tooth becomes loose. Or there is gum loss. But teeth might also malfunction or not be straight, preventing you from chewing properly.

I can briefly explain its treatment. Initially, we carry out gum treatment, which involves cleaning the roots of the teeth. For this, we also use flap surgery: this involves loosening the gums to clean the roots in depth. Compare it to showering: if you keep your clothes on, your body doesn’t get clean.

If this is not enough and the tooth does not have enough support, we go a step further. We then make sure that the hole in which the root is located offers support. To do this, we fill it with artificial bone or bone material from the palate as a gum replacement. We also do implants, up to titanium crowns.

Prof Karlien Asscherick is in charge of orthodontics at the University Dental Centre.

The phantom lab could be the ideal place for dental assistants. In the event that dental assistants are allowed to do more kinds of work and also apply braces to teeth, they could practise this in the lab. It would take a lot of work off dentists’ hands and shorten waiting lists, to the benefit of the patient.

What is orthodontics?

It literally means straight teeth and comes from Greek. “Ortho” is the Greek word for straight and “odontos” is the Greek word for tooth. With orthodontics, we can make patients happy in many ways. You make sure they can bite properly, that they can chew properly, that the teeth look nice, that they breathe properly and don’t lisp.

Karlien Asscherick van het UTC

(c) VUB

The great thing about the profession of orthodontics is that, as well as the medical aspects, it also requires a very practical approach and calls on your creativity. Every tooth you handle is different and you have to find different solutions for each one. It also has to look aesthetically pleasing. A treatment lasts two years, during which you see patients frequently. My biggest group of patients is between 13 and 16 years old. You don’t hurt them and you make them happy with the result. You recognise them by those cheerful braces. It’s very rewarding work, partly because of the intensive contact.

At the moment, orthodontics does not have much use for the new phantom lab. But if dental assistants are allowed to do more in the future and also apply braces to the teeth, they will be able to practise this in the lab. First the assistants have to get official permission to do so. It would take a lot of work out of dentists’ hands. But it depends on regulations.

Laurence Amand

Laurence Amand is a dentist at the University Dental Centre

I’m a general dentist, with a particular interest in sleep. It may sound strange, but the jaw has a lot to do with breathing problems. With mild apnoea, a patient is given a mandibular repositioning appliance (MRA). This is a mouth brace or dental prosthesis, which brings the lower jaw forward to a limited extent during sleep. This improves breathing and helps you sleep better. We work on this with UZ Brussel. When their sleep lab detects mild apnoea, they refer you here.

Do you supervise dentists in training?

Yes, I supervise bachelors and masters of dentistry training at UGent. They learn the profession here under my supervision.

It’s nice to come into contact with the new guard. They are nice and ambitious. They also make you think about yourself. They still do a treatment step by step, every facet. As an experienced dentist, you run on automatism, so it’s good to reflect.

Besides MRAs and training UGent students, I also do general crown and bridge work, so I work on everything related to replacement of teeth. This involves a lot of material knowledge. So if you can experiment with new materials in the new phantom lab, that’s always good. I experienced the old lab: that’s where I was trained, and I used to take postgraduate courses there. Great memories. So it’s great that postgraduate training can take place there again.

"The University Dental Centre has a full range of services. You come here for annual check-ups, but the endodontics service can help you with nerve treatment if you experience sudden pain. We can refer to each other. For the patient, this is very comfortable."

Mathieu Vandendael

Mathieu Vandendael is in charge of the Endodontics department at the University Dental Centre

Are you going to use the phantom lab intensively?

I’ve been active at VUB for many years and did my dental training here. We didn’t use the old lab for years because it was old-fashioned and not suitable for teaching. Now the new lab is set up properly. That increases motivation, so we will work there a lot. And we won’t be the only ones: I also hear enthusiastic noises from outside VUB.

What’s special about the new lab?

I only know of one like it in Belgium, and it’s a small one. What makes us unique is that we have a university training centre that can be used by private organisations. Other universities don’t have space for this, because their labs are used by students. Moreover, you rarely come across such an extensive space, with an auditorium and 18 seats. That’s the maximum. As a lecturer, it’s difficult to give practical lessons to more people. Its central location is another strong point. It’s close to the ring road and is easily accessible from Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and even Wallonia.


What kind of postgraduate courses will you teach?

I will be teaching courses on endodontics and tooth restoration, but all disciplines can take place there. Because the workbenches are modular, you can use them in many ways. You can easily expand them with new equipment or give them a different set-up in the classroom.

I’ve been one of the drivers to get the innovation going again. It’s important for me to show that the clinic is up and running. We are alive and kicking. That image should also be an attraction for dentists to come and work at the University Dental Centre.

We want to develop the UDC in a number of areas in the coming years. We need to digitise and become experts. In five years’ time, every dental practice should be digital. We can be a pioneer in this through collaborations with various partners. We are also aiming to have more postgraduate courses. People following those courses are highly motivated. We want to strengthen our cooperation with UZ Brussel, specifically with the Department of Oral, Maxillofacial and Facial Surgery.

Another track is oral hygienists. The number of dental hygienists is going to rise sharply in Belgium. In the Netherlands, you have two or three dental hygienists to one dentist. The legislation in Belgium has just changed, but the first dental hygienists were only recognised in October 2022. We can offer them excellent training opportunities and will start in October 2023.

"The UDC is actively looking for dentists who want to join our team and help supervise these training sessions. Supervising training not only strengthens a dentist’s network, but transferring knowledge also offers a lot of satisfaction, as I can personally testify."

Finally: without VUB, the UZ Brussel and the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy in particular, it would not have been possible to put the University Dental Centre and the phantom lab back on the map. Without full support from the chairman, rector, the dean, the general manager and many colleagues, this would not have been possible. For that, I would like to thank everyone immensely.

VUB rector Jan Danckaert visits opening of new phantom lab

Opening Fantoomlab

Inge Cornillie, Ivo Van Akelijen, Dirk Devroey en Jan Danckaert (vltr) (c) VUB Jean Cosyn

Jan Danckaert in het nieuw geopende fantoomlab

Rector Jan Danckaert operates the mouth of a phantom in the UTC's renovated lab.