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“Dental schools should consider incorporating haptic VR simulation devices”

With its cutting-edge technology, haptic virtual reality simulation is slowly transforming dental education. (Image: Damir Khabirov/Shutterstock)

As haptic technology slowly makes its way into dentistry, dental students are increasingly using haptic virtual reality (VR) simulation in their training. Combined with traditional phantom head practice, the technology may help improve students’ tooth preparation and offers benefits such as increased manual dexterity. Dental Tribune International spoke with Dr Szabolcs Felszeghy, a senior researcher at the University of Eastern Finland who has conducted several studies on haptics in dentistry, about dental students’ experience with using haptic VR simulation in preclinical training and the benefits it offers compared with phantom head simulation and discussed how haptic technology may evolve in the future.

Dr Szabolcs Felszeghy, a senior researcher at the University of Eastern Finland working on haptics in dentistry. (Image: Szabolcs Felszeghy)

Dr Felszeghy, why should dental students use haptic VR simulation?
Learning tooth preparation techniques and the finesse required is an important part of preclinical dental education. The traditional phantom head simulation laboratory learning is really important to mimic clinical dental procedures in preclinical dental education. In our experience at the Institute of Dentistry at the University of Eastern Finland’s School of Medicine, combining haptic VR with conventional tooth preparation exercises in dental education allows us to improve dental students’ learning outcomes, improving their manual dexterity, increasing their efficiency and improving work performance.

What other benefits does haptics-enhanced VR offer to dental students?
Haptic VR training is a great method for achieving the required level of skill for tooth preparation. The benefits of haptic VR practice especially include its relative informality, the ability to repeat the exercise as many times as necessary and the possibility of training at a time suitable for each student. In addition, students may feel more self-confident after practising in the haptic VR environment using a dental trainer. Another advantage compared with traditional methods is consistency of scoring.

Haptics-enhanced VR has become increasingly popular in the recent decade. However, fewer than 150 dental institutions worldwide have had haptic VR equipment installed. How might this slow adoption rate be explained?
Haptic feedback technology has received increasing attention in dental schools, and there are no questions about the effectiveness of haptic VR dental trainers in preclinical operative dentistry courses as an adjunct to conventional phantom head training. I believe that the major reason for the slow adoption rate is not based on the benefits of a haptic VR dental trainer, such as Simodont (Nissin Dental Products), but rather on the financial aspect. It costs over €1 million for complete installation of 15 haptic VR training units ready for use.

The University of Eastern Finland was the first university in the country to install VR dental trainers in 2021. Have more universities in Finland followed suit since then?
Yes, three more haptic VR Simodont dental trainers were installed in the dental faculty of the University of Turku this spring.

From your experience, what do students value the most when using VR to enhance their manual skills?
In general, our undergraduate dental students viewed our de novo training module positively and felt that they had learned new skills and gained new clinical information in a relaxed scenario.

The future of haptic technology looks bright, as it has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of dental training.

Can haptic training replace using phantom head simulation, or do you think that the two types of training methods should complement each other?
Phantom head simulation training for invasive dental procedures must be a core component of the preclinical dental curriculum. However, besides the conventional training methods, dental schools should consider incorporating haptic VR simulation devices to facilitate the transition of preclinical students from the simulated dental learning environment to the clinical setting.

A haptic virtual reality Simodont dental trainer. (Image: Szabolcs Felszeghy)

You have recently worked on a study that examined dental practice that combined VR haptics and frasaco plastic tooth model preparation exercises. What were the most significant results?
The combination of haptic VR technology provided by the Simodont dental trainer with frasaco simulation can successfully meet the learning and teaching needs for tooth preparation.

What is the future of haptic technology in dentistry?
The future of haptic technology looks bright, as it has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of dental training. In the recent past, haptics helped make things perceptible, for example phone vibration and Rumble Paks in gaming controllers. We now have haptic VR dental trainers, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in dental training is just around the corner. The combination of AI with haptic VR devices would definitely enhance training and engagement, and this could potentially reduce the risk of surgical errors and improve patient outcomes.

However, further development and evidence-based clinical validation of haptic VR dental trainers are needed to improve engagement and learning outcomes for more dental students around the world. I am convinced that, as the technology continues to advance, it is likely that dental educators will see even more innovative and exciting dental applications of haptic VR technology in the coming years.

Editorial note:

The study has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Computerized Dentistry.
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