Virtual teaching at Australian uni improves dental reality

virtual reality teaching tool

Virtual and augmented reality technologies are being used as an important teaching tool for University of Queensland dentistry students, who practise with 3D headsets before working on real-life clients. 

Dr Sobia Zafar from the Digital Dental Team at UQ’s School of Dentistry said technology-enhanced learning had transformed the experience of more than 400 students in the past four years.

“Training dental students is a complex process as it requires a lot of fine motor skills, as well as hand-foot and -eye coordination,” Dr Zafar said. 

“Despite having simulation sessions to provide a smooth transition into clinics, 87 per cent of students said they felt they needed additional training before being put in a real-life setting. 

“That’s why we decided to embed both virtual and augmented reality technologies into our classes to provide extra, immersive training for students. 

“Virtual reality allows students to practise in a safe environment, make mistakes they can rectify, and improve their confidence before entering a clinic to treat real clients.”

When wearing a virtual reality headset, students interact with 3D holographic images that allow them to see through skin to explore the human body, particularly the parts relevant to their studies such as head and neck anatomy.

With the augmented reality technology, students wear a headset and built-in sensors mimic their movements as they navigate a virtual dental clinic and interact with a virtual patient. 

Students can also practise administering local anaesthesia through software co-developed by Dr Zafar and Dr Jessica Zachar, something new to this area of teaching. 

Dr Zachar said the team’s goal was to provide stimulating learning environments so students can develop into well-rounded health professionals. 

“These digital teaching tools have helped students maximise their potential and expand their knowledge in dental trauma management, dental anatomy and local anaesthesia administration,” Dr Zachar said. 

“We want to set students up to become leaders within the profession and local community, delivering optimum health care.”

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