Haptic Dental Trainers provide better skill development

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Are haptic dental trainers better than phantom heads for dental curricula?

Haptic dental trainers have been perceived as useful in the early stages of integration into the dental curriculum at Queen Mary University of London; however, their longer-term benefits are yet to be established. (Image: Frame Stock Footage/Shutterstock)

LONDON, UK: For dentists in training, options for honing their skills have been historically limited to phantom heads or patients at university dental clinics. Both options limit the dental student’s ability to repeat specific techniques, procedures and conditions. However, a study conducted at the Institute of Dentistry of Queen Mary University of London has found that including haptic training in the undergraduate dental programme was helpful in training for rare clinical scenarios, provided realistic feedback and allowed students to practise repeat procedures with the same patient parameters. This led to accelerated skill learning and improved confidence.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the immediate need to control aerosolised pathogens led to a reduction in patient-facing training, necessitating the exploration of safe, sustainable alternatives. With funding received for digital transformation, the institute invested in advanced virtual reality haptic stations and intra-oral scanners, aiming to enhance the clinical competency-based dental curriculum. The haptic dental trainers by Simodont were chosen to introduce this haptic technology, and the addition was guided by a simulation-based dental education framework, which focuses on psychomotor skill acquisition and the collective impact on the teaching staff, curriculum and facilities.

The curriculum development followed a phased approach, rooted in the concept of deliberate practice, a method emphasising active engagement in task-focused training with immediate feedback. This approach was extended to haptic simulation training, aligning with the school’s existing education pedagogy and aiming to improve psychomotor skills through structured, repetitive practice and feedback.

The integration process involved collaborative work between the e-learning team and a newly appointed haptics teacher, focusing on transitioning preclinical learners’ psychomotor skills to a virtual reality environment. Staff and students underwent comprehensive training to familiarise themselves with haptic technology. This included face-to-face presentations, online materials and hands-on sessions. The staff’s involvement was crucial in adapting the curriculum and creating new haptic cases that mirrored traditional training while leveraging the advantages of virtual reality simulation. Utilising existing Simodont cases helped ensure the curriculum was designed to progressively develop the students’ manual dexterity and technical skills.

The use of haptic simulators is regarded as far superior to working with artificial teeth in a phantom head; however, the study pointed out the need for further, comprehensive research to establish the long-term benefits and pedagogical effectiveness of haptic training. Given the substantial financial investment required for haptic technology, it is crucial to understand its impact on traditional training methods and patient clinics and to ascertain whether it offers any measurable advantages in terms of patient safety and educational outcomes. The study authors suggested that answers to these questions are vital for justifying the investment to funders and professional regulators in the UK and globally.

The study, titled “The integration of haptic training into the QMUL dental curriculum”, was published online on 24 October 2023 in the European Journal of Dental Education, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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