Virtual reality in dentistry

Dentistry is one specialism where virtual reality is being used to help train new dentists as well as ensuring experienced dentists keep their skills up to date.

This includes 3D models of teeth or a human head which trainee dentists use to learn and practise a range of dental techniques. They do so safe in the knowledge that they will not hurt the virtual patient. This is a situation in which they are free to make mistakes, discover why they did so and learn the correct way to rectify these.

3D dental patient

This 3D model enables our trainees to learn about the anatomy of the teeth and mouth in general. But additional functionality is provided in the shape of a haptic input device or ‘Phantom’ controller which controls a virtual drill. The trainee uses this controller to manipulate the drill within the three dimensional mouth, for example, drilling a tooth.

They become familiar with teeth anatomy over time which equips them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to apply these to real patients.

Virtual Reality Dentist’s Chair

Another training tool is the Virtual Reality Dental Chair system or ‘HapTEL’ (haptics technology enhanced learning) which is designed to teach a range of dental techniques to students and dental professionals.

This system consists of a dentist’s chair; a mirror and a haptics based drill which enables the trainee dentist to perform various procedures. The trainee can actually ‘feel’ the pressure of the virtual drill which is due to a process called force feedback. This is a system of physical responses (feedback) caused by movements of an input device (e.g. joystick) which are experienced by the user.

But what the feedback does is to provide a sense of realism which replicates what they would experience during a real world procedure. This enables them to develop fine motor control, e.g. control the speed of a drill which is vital during a dental procedure.

This is step forward from the traditional model of a skull complete with teeth which the trainee would use to practise on. The virtual reality model is a realistic training system which draws upon gaming technologies, engineering and researchers from the dentistry and scientific communities.

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