Haptics-enhanced virtual reality can boost learning in dental education

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haptics-enhanced virtual reality

Combining VR haptics with conventional tooth preparation exercises in dental education, it is possible to improve students’ learning outcomes, according to a new study carried out by Finnish researchers. 

In addition, students felt that their self-confidence improved after practising in the VR haptic environment. 

The results were presented at the AMEF conference 2023 in Helsinki.

Combining VR haptics with traditional phantom head practice, and the supportive effect they have on each other, is under-researched. 

Finland’s first VR-haptic Simodont Dental Trainers were installed at the University of Eastern Finland in 2021. 

“After getting the equipment, we immediately decided to begin researching their use,” clinical lecturer Outi Huhtela said.

The new study showcases the use of VR haptic equipment in the execution of a preclinical dental course and assesses students’ performances and personal views on it.

The main research questions were whether VR haptic teaching equipment enhances phantom head practice while supporting learning, and whether it is possible to improve manual dexterity by utilising a virtual learning environment.

Forty preclinical stage dental students were split into two groups to practise the preparation of a tooth for a dental crown. 

Group A began the course by practising with a VR haptic trainer, whereas Group B started working with plastic teeth. Halfway through the course, the groups swapped places. The VR haptic trainer was used to practise drilling by working on simple geometric shapes as well as preparing a tooth pillar for a ceramic crown. At the end of the course, the students prepared a dental crown while aiming to stay within given clinical parameters. Data of the students’ performances was gathered with both the inbuilt methods of the VR-haptic equipment and via imaging-based measurements. Additionally, the opinions and feelings of the students were assessed through anonymous voluntary surveys.

At first, the students found the use of VR haptic equipment challenging, but after encouragement the results were promising. The majority said that they appreciated the practicality of the exercises and the information given by the equipment. Over two-thirds of the students felt that their self-confidence improved after practising in the VR haptic environment. VR haptic practice was considered useful in improving manual dexterity and preparing for upcoming courses. 

However, only a small share of the respondents felt that VR haptic training could completely replace working with a phantom head.

Clinical measurements of the tooth preparations completed for the final exam were found to be more even and closer to ideal in Group A than Group B. There was also less damage to the neighbouring teeth in Group A. There were no differences in the baseline measurements between the groups.

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