Students test their nerve in the virtual world

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virtual dental

A groundbreaking simulation from the University of Newcastle is providing oral health therapy students with a unique opportunity to practise administering dental injections in a virtual environment before they enter the patient clinic.

The initiative is the brainchild of lecturer and simulation coordinator Denise Higgins who said that before the VR program, students would attend a lecture and watch a demo before practising on each other and then treating real patients.

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

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 delicate anaesthetic needles.

Utilising an Oculus headset, the wearer is transported to a virtual dental clinic where a patients awaits a procedure requiring palatal injections to the roof of the mouth, for example, or interdental injections between the teeth.

A target point gives students the ideal mark to place the needle and a virtual gauge displays the millilitres being administered once the user engages the needle.

In addition, the patient’s skin can be scaled back to expose the working nerves and capillaries in order to familiarise students with key anatomical features.

“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,” Innovation team manager Craig 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.

“We hope the tool will be useful on a global scale and may eventually apply to anyone working in the field.”

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