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The PERL Laboratories: Dental students evaluate products

June 1, 2007
In previous Ivory Tower columns, we described the Product Evaluation and Research Laboratory (PERL) program at the UCONN School of Dental Medicine (SDM).

By Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, MS, and Mathew Moura

In previous Ivory Tower columns, we described the Product Evaluation and Research Laboratory (PERL) program at the UCONN School of Dental Medicine (SDM). PERL, one of the first facilities of its kind at any dental school in the United States, was developed by three SDM dental students - Jason Tubo, David Sherberg, and Kristina Lake - as part of the Biodontics educational program. The students were assisted by Dr. Steve Lepowsky, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, and Dr. Edward F. Rossomando, Biodontics Educational Program Director and PERL Faculty Advisor.

This column presents a review of the PERL program, including the process for selection of products for testing and a progress report on the response of the dental industry to the program.

How PERL works

The products and technologies evaluated in the PERL program are on loan from dental companies. The PERL program benefits the dental students by providing access to products and technologies not available in dental school, and benefits the dental company by providing feedback on products from their next generation of customers.

Selection of products for evaluation

A product submitted for research and evaluation is assigned to a student who presents the product at the monthly meeting of the PERL Biodontics student group. After presentation and discussion of all products submitted, only one or two are accepted for a complete workup and evaluation. One criteria for selection is that the product must be on the market, i.e., not experimental, and another is that the product not be in use in the dental school’s clinics. In addition, the products must be patented and FDA approved.

When possible, students seek to include several examples of the same product. For example, if a digital camera were selected for evaluation, the PERL students would seek dental digital cameras from other companies and would conduct side-by-side evaluations. Such a comparison provides students and manufacturers with a more meaningful evaluation.

Evaluation procedure and report

To ensure fairness, the student assigned the product develops the evaluation procedure and process in collaboration with a company representative.

The evaluation report can take many forms. For example, most products can be evaluated by survey or questionnaire. In this case, the PERL students, together with the company representative, prepare the survey. In some cases, the report may include a videotape of the evaluation process. This method of evaluation and the format of the report are developed as part of the PERL program.

Response of the dental industry to the PERL program

To date, products have been accepted for research and evaluation from Centrix, Inc., Benco Dental, and P.A.D.S. Dental. William Dragan, president of Centrix, who attended a presentation made by PERL student evaluators, said that the students’ “energy and enthusiasm for learning not just their course and clinical work, but also the real world practice of dentistry, is exciting to witness,” and “these students and students like them ensure the vitality of the dental profession and dental industry for many years to come.”

Submitting products for evaluation

For the PERL program to succeed we need the cooperation of dental companies and we urge companies - large, medium, or small - to submit a product for evaluation. To offer a product for consideration, provide a brief written description of the service, technology, equipment, or product to be evaluated and submit it to Dr. Rossomando via e-mail at [email protected]. There is no charge for the evaluation, although the sponsoring company is responsible for shipping and related costs.

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Editor’s Note: Dr. Rossomando is the professor and director of the Center for Research and Education in Product Evaluation (CRETE) and the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine in Farmington, Conn. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].