Dentistry training takes a virtual turn

Dental science students at Griffith University are now learning their trade virtually.

Griffith University’s School of Dentistry and Oral Health is the first in the southern hemisphere to trial the Moog Simodont Trainer, a highly-realistic dental training simulator.

A sample group of 40 students at the Centre for Medicine and Oral Health on the Gold Coast is taking part in a six-month evaluation of the trainer, which combines virtual reality with cutting-edge haptic technology.

The technology is based on that used in flight simulation training where the feel of an aircraft’s controls are replicated in detailed and realistic fashion.

Students learn in a virtual world of three-dimensional images, drills and mirrors that feel like the real thing.

“All of the students are clearly benefitting from using the machine,” Head of the School of Dentistry and Oral Health, Professor Ward Massey, said.

Dentistry students traditionally practise on plastic teeth and phantom heads in simulation labs, but now also have access to the three hi-tech machines, valued at more than $40,000 each.

“With this technology the students are confronted with many different and very realistic patient situations in pre-clinical training,” Professor Massey said.

“The feel of treating the simulated patient is very realistic and is adjusted as the various instruments (drills and hand instruments) are changed.

“Many practitioners use magnification in patient treatment nowadays and this is also simulated by zooming in onscreen.

“There is even the familiar whirring sound of the drill.”

Professor Massey said the opportunity for students to stop, go back and review the different steps of their virtual treatment was a fundamental advantage of the system.

“I think it’s critically important to support student self-study and to expose students to technology which assists in the development of accurate self-assessment skills at an early point in their career.

“The end result of any task is important but the ability of staff and students to review each step of the treatment is also very important.”

The machinery is also the focus of a school research project that compares the spatial reasoning of students using the technology with that of students not using it.

“This technology has the potential to usher in a new era for dentistry, particularly dental surgery,” Professor Massey said.

“Future developments should allow treatments to be accurately simulated for individual patients through the incorporation of X-ray data, CT scans and other information.

“It will treatments to be practised and developed prior to the actual patient interaction.

“At the school, it will support a change in the development of the relationship between undergraduate student and clinical patient which we are confident will support better clinical outcomes in training and in practice.

“It will also support better student posture as it requires the ergonomics of the clinical environment to be maintained at a higher level than many mannequin-based systems.”

The new technology could potentially also end the expensive exercise of replacing plastic teeth.

The trainer is the product of Moog Inc, a worldwide designer, manufacturer and integrator of precision controlled systems, and the Academic Centre for Dentistry, Amsterdam, where it has been rolled out extensively in their preclinical areas and supported by the Dutch government.