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Dentistry students play ‘The Price Is Right’

Guessing games help students prepare for post-graduation work

On a normal day in the College of Dentistry at The Ohio State University, no one would expect Drew Carey to show up. But in Matthew Messina’s Introduction to Clinical Dentistry class, the actor’s absence felt strangely conspicuous.

“Drew Carey was unavailable today,” Messina told the assembled students. “So, you get me as your host.”

For the next hour, Messina served as emcee for his annual “The Price Is Right” class, where students play games similar to those featured on the beloved television show, which Carey hosts. The games help students learn the cost of dental equipment, which is a core skill for running a dental practice, Messina said.

“Who pays for dental supplies? The answer is the patient,” he said. “My view is that I’m the steward of my patient’s money, so I want to spend it wisely. There is better access to dental care if we keep costs down.”

Second-year dental student Paige Kreusch was excited to get a clearer picture of equipment cost.

“The cost of things, when I see the comparison between the prices at school and outside of school, it’s expensive,” she said.

Students were chosen at random to guess the costs of everything from non-sterile cotton rolls and syringes to impression trays and autoclaves. And while each participant had to speak for themselves, they received enthusiastic help from their classmates in the audience, just like on TV.

Messina has been playing this game with students for three years. Originally the class was a lecture, he said. But he wanted to find a way to make the material more engaging.

“[I asked myself], “Is there a fun way to teach this?’” he said. “What’s more fun than ‘The Price Is Right’?”

The class has become famous in the college, said second-year dentistry student Rajiv Kishinchand.

“A couple of upperclassmen have told me that this is one of the highlights of the semester,” he said.

In addition to prices, Messina offered tips about how to use products fully. A composite bonding kit, for example, comes with cartridges in several colors. There will be colors that are used more than others, he said, and dentists end up with extra colors that eventually expire.

“I keep the old composite in the lab and use it to wax crowns,” he said. “If you wax with the expired composite, it’s easy for you because you’re used to it. So, there is value to expired composite, which is good because it’s expensive.”

Participants in Matthew Messina's

Another lesson Messina imparted to his students: Remember that you rarely need just one of something. 

He showed the class a set of handpieces, which are used to clean teeth. The three items cost around $2,500 altogether. How many sets of three would a dental office need, he asked the students.

“Start to think about the investment that you need to make. It’s just not chairs and things like that,” he said. “It’s supplies, it’s instruments like these handpieces. And they all add up to the cost of business.”

Even if students are working for someone else, this cost awareness makes them an asset to their practice, Messina said.

“We’re trying to build smarter, more business-ready students,” he said. “If we spend money wisely, everyone benefits. Patients benefit from an access-to-care standpoint. The practice benefits from running profitably. Remember, if we’re without profit, there is no practice.”

Following the TV show’s pattern, the class concluded with a Showcase Showdown. The first package was equipment to start a new practice: chairs, stools for doctors and assistants, x-ray units and more. The second was state-of-the-art technology that would benefit an established practice.

In the end, the cost didn’t matter as much as the point Messina made with the two options: A dental practice needs chairs and x-rays to perform standard dental care, not cutting-edge technology.

“How much dentistry can you do without [the basics]? None,” he said. “… I teach this course as if it’s the start of your practice management plan because I want you to build habits that are part of an ongoing career. Understanding the financial implications of the decisions we make and the care we provide is valuable.”

While the Showcase Showdown winner didn’t win the equipment, she did receive a chocolate bar like all the other participants. While chocolate may seem like a strange thing for a dentist to give out, Messina was quick to remind students of the reasoning behind his choice.

“Chocolate sugars brush off easily,” he said.

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