Dentistry as a field has made great strides, with technology enabling new techniques and greater understanding. However, things have not progressed as quickly when it comes to training new dentists. There is so much that a student can learn about practical dentistry by reading books or listening to lectures. Practical education, which is more effective, is limited by resources (including people willing to offer their mouths to students for review) and by the availability of instructors. Fortunately, that is all about to change thanks to the revolutionary efforts of the University of Utah School of Dentistry, where virtual reality is shaping the world of dental education in exciting new ways.
Advance in leaps and bounds
While the medical field has been using virtual reality education for some time now, it has not been applied to dentistry on a large scale. The tipping point of the virtual reality dental revolution came when the cost of a head-mounted display became ten times cheaper. A head-mounted display is a screen, usually placed in a visor, that allows a user to see information without having to change their point of view or turn their head. This, combined with a generous donation from the Foundation for Oral and Maxillofacial Research, allowed the innovators at the University of Utah to get started.
A class in itself
The main advantage of virtual learning is that it is the best thing to do after examining a real mouth in person. Instead of 2D photos and text descriptions, students can get up close to a wide variety of mouths so they can get a feel for what to expect in the real world. Not only does this 3D imagery make learning faster, but it also allows teachers to create endless scenarios to test student reactions.
For example, a student can examine a virtual patient when the patient has a heart attack. The student can learn to react to the situation with immediate feedback from the instructor and repeat the scenario as needed. This is in stark contrast to traditional methods where students interacted with a mannequin that did not offer the same level of realism.
As Mark Durham, Section Head of Prosthodontics, says: “If you were to teach a class in Paris, that would be great and you could have a good discussion about it, but that would be pale compared to going to Paris. “
This technology is already being used in a five-week dental implant course, which is the world’s first comprehensive dental course using virtual reality. It is also used in a limited way in other classes, where students learn topics such as fillings, crowns, extractions, and periodontal control.
As the program (and technology) advances, more and more students around the world will be able to benefit from virtual reality dentistry. The result will be better-trained dentists who learn at a rapid pace because, in Durham’s words, “With virtual reality, you can transmit more megabytes of information to the human brain. “