Dentist Students Test Their Nerves In VR

Dentist Students Test Their Nerves In VR
October 31, 2018

The dentist’s chair may soon be less daunting thanks to a ground-breaking simulation that gives University of Newcastle oral health students the opportunity to practice administering dental injections in a virtual environment before they enter the patient clinic.


A first-of-its-kind for the field, the initiative is the brainchild of oral health lecturer Denise Higgins. 


“From listening to student feedback over the years, I knew they felt they were missing something between the theory and practicing on their peers and patients,” Ms Higgins said.


“Administering anaesthetic needles is an incredibly intricate process, and not something many feel confident doing without extensive practice. Ultimately, we want our patients to feel safe, comfortable and at-ease, which is why it’s crucial to ensure our students feel confident entering the patient clinic.”


The program, a collaboration between the University’s IT Services Innovation Team and School of Health Sciences, aims to bridge the gap between the classroom and clinic to ensure students are confident and capable when administering  anaesthetic needles.


Utilising a virtual reality headset called Oculus, students are transported to a virtual dental clinic where a patient awaits a procedure. 


Students can access a range of scenarios, including procedures requiring palatal injections to the roof of the mouth and inter-dental injections between the teeth. A target point gives students the ideal mark to place the needle and a virtual gauge displays the milliliters being administered once the user engages the needle.

Similar to the successful Road to Birth program launched earlier in 2018, the patient’s skin can be scaled back to expose the working nerves and capillaries in order to familiarise students with key anatomical features.


The University of Newcastle is believed to be the first university to incorporate virtual reality into the training of oral health professionals. 


Innovation Team Manager, Mr Craig Williams, said the Virtual Anesthesia program was developed to imitate real-world situations students would face in the workplace.


“What’s fantastic about this new program is we’ve been able to replicate typical scenarios an oral health practitioner would perform on a daily basis – things like administering dental injections in areas that would help anaesthetise nerves for pain management and patient comfort,” Mr Williams said.


“Simulation is a wonderful teaching resource as students can participate in a controlled, standardised and safe environment. They can stop the simulation at any stage to review their progress or if they need to turn to teachers and peers for support.

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