Weekly Tech: Trade-Offs and Advantages of VR in Dental Training

September 19, 2017
Nikhilesh De

Virtual reality in dentistry is usually discussed in the context of enhancing the patient experience. But in dental schools, virtual reality is slowly making its way into the classroom. Continue below to learn about the pros and cons of virtual reality technology for clinical training purposes.

Virtual reality helps compensate for the high student to faculty ratio in dental schools.

The demand for well-trained dentists continues to increase, particularly in remote areas with underserved communities. Training future practitioners can potentially become easier with the rise of virtual technology through new education tools.

Virtual reality can help assist new doctors become more familiarized not only with the human body, but also with practicing treating patients without the risk of harming an actual person, according to the University of California — San Francisco.

Dentists who learn using virtual reality can become intimately familiar with the different parts of the human mouth, learning where every bit of the interior should be and what it should look like without having to inspect an actual patient’s mouth.

This makes it easier to recognize issues at first glance when they are actually practicing on patients or working in their own offices.

Virtual reality also solves another issue, one pointed out by Doctors Roy George, Elby Roy, and Mahmoud Bakr: There is a lack of qualified and experienced faculty members able to instruct the next generation of dentists.

A single instructor can only teach so many students, and there are not enough instructors for the number of students in the world, according to the study from George et. al.

“With increasing demands in clinical training but the lack of experienced faculty, the cost factor and changing trends of teaching and assessment, there is a need for universities to turn to technology based teaching and learning software to enhance students’ learning,” the authors said.

Practicing in virtual reality also makes it easier for students and instructors to review performance by recording student performance. This allows instructors to more easily discover mistakes or potential issues, again without risk to a living patient.

“The use of virtual reality devices for dental education is visioned [sic] to allow the instructor to better engage students and build on their own knowledge. The ability of these simulators to store and replay students’ work further allows self-learning and assessment,” the study says.

George and his fellow authors did see some issues with virtual reality training in its present state, at least for dentists.

There is no standardized curriculum between the different types of simulators. What one student learns may not be the same as what another student learns, and how they perform subject to interpretation.

To counter that, the authors proposed creating a standard that all of the different simulators would abide by.

“Development of a validated single scoring system to the test the improvement in skills achieved across the various available simulators could help assess benefits of each simulator within the pre-clinical dental education framework,” the authors said.

Virtual reality tools also do not provide a perfect interface for instruction. One study pointed out the lack of haptic feedback — while students can see what they are doing, they cannot necessarily feel what they would ordinarily feel while treating a patient.

There is really no way to know how something feels physically using only virtual education, so incorporating actual hands-on training is important, according to the study.

Overall, virtual reality can be a powerful tool for students hoping to become dentists, but needs to be refined before it can take its place as a primary learning method. Using virtual reality in conjunction with physical learning methods is likely the best way to help future doctors learn most effectively.

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