VR Boosts Oral Health Training's Effectiveness

VR Boosts Oral Health Training's Effectiveness
Third-year oral health student Meshal and University of Newcastle Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy lecturer Denise Higgins.


There is more to giving a dental injection than just hitting the right spot.


Oral health therapist Denise Higgins teaches her students they also need to understand the related anatomy and physiology to land the needle in the right spot.


She knows what equipment oral health therapists need and she knows what they need to know to assemble it.


A needle not only needs to penetrate from the right angle, it needs to be inserted to the correct depth. Health practitioners who give dental injections have to put themselves and their patient in the correct position.


Higgins, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle (UON), is invested in complementing her students’ theoretical learning with cutting-edge simulated experiences that give them the skills and confidence to care for real-life patients.


“We just keep adding the layers of realism so it is becoming more and more like the real situation,” Higgins says.


Higgins is a lecturer in the Bachelor of Oral Health therapy degree at UON (and co-ordinator of the simulation activities the students participate in during the course) and a PhD candidate whose research focuses on improving teaching methods in oral health.


She has worked as a dental therapist and oral health therapist in a range of public dental settings in Victoria and NSW.


She also serves as president of the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists' Association (ADOHTA) NSW branch.


“The people who taught me when I obtained my first qualification were really good role models,” she says. “They were proud of their profession and took pride in what they did on a day-to-day basis. So that is how I set forth with my career.”


Higgins, whose various qualifications include a bachelor of oral health, bachelor of health sciences (honours) and a graduate certificate in clinical simulation, is behind a trial version of the virtual anaesthesia program UON bachelor of oral health therapy, which students at the Ourimbah campus can participate in.


Students don a virtual reality headset and controllers to inhabit a virtual dental clinic, where they can perform virtual injections that show how many millimetres of anaesthetic they are administering and at what speed.


They can develop their skills by administering anaesthetic solution into the synthetic tissues of a manikin’s head.


Higgins developed the manikin to give students more realistic simulation experiences.


“Once they get to the end of the program and graduate, they would be more confident … and hopefully that adds to greater employability,” Higgins says.


Higgins’ own career goals in the next 12 months include obtaining her PhD and applying to become a senior lecturer.


“I want to be that role model to the up-and-coming students and I want them to have that same experience I had.”

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