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Haptic technology: Supporting dental students with realistic clinical experience

Dental haptics offers various benefits over traditional teaching techniques, including increased learning efficiency, objective and reproducible feedback, unlimited practice and cost-effectiveness. (Image: High Point University)

HIGH POINT, N.C., US: Haptic technology was first developed and introduced in the 1970s. Today, the cutting-edge technology is growing rapidly and is gaining increasing popularity in dentistry. It enables hands-on learning and allows dental students to achieve clinical competence before treating patients, providing students with a unique learning experience and allowing space for constructive criticism.

In recent years, haptics has been widely used in dental and medical education for both learning and training. Approximately 20 universities in the world use the technology to transform students’ learning environments. “It’s critical for education, quality improvement and calibration. Our hope is to provide students who are practice-ready and exposed to the complexities of technology to be able to succeed in the evolving digital revolution that’s going on in dentistry,” noted Dr Ali Shazib, associate professor, assistant dean and chief clinical officer at High Point University’s Workman School of Dental Medicine.

Taking advantage of the technology, the school has recently installed its first SIMtoCARE dental simulation units that use the latest technology available to create a realistic training experience to train and educate dental students. According to a press release, the dental school will soon have one of the world’s largest state-of-the-art dental simulation laboratories.

“It really reflects the university’s commitment to [educating] students for the future of health care, and this is in fact the future of dental education,” said Dr Scott De Rossi, founding dean of the dental school.

The SIMtoCARE handpiece connects to electromotors which create a realistic feel for students to practise procedures such as tooth filling and root canal therapy. According to SIMtoCARE CEO and co-founder Karel van Gelder, the simulator software provides exact measurements and instant patient feedback and records data. SIMtoCARE simulators combine reality with virtual reality objects and allow students to practise dental procedures on a virtual patient or phantom head.

Van Gelder compares the simulators to flight simulation training devices and said that flight simulations paved the way for the development of SIMtoCARE dental training simulators in the Netherlands. “You’ve heard of flight simulators for airplanes. This is a simulator for dentists, and it allows you to train in a safe way without seeing patients. We can replicate the feel of a real tooth with the pulp inside,” Van Gelder explained.

From left: Dr Kevin Cain, senior associate dean for administration and finance at High Point University; Karel van Gelder, SIMtoCARE CEO and co-founder; Dr Scott De Rossi, founding dean of the university’s Workman School of Dental Medicine; and Dr Ali Shazib, associate professor and assistant dean at the dental school. (Image: High Point University)

According to Kimberly Werth, assistant professor and assistant dean for student and professional success at the dental school, the majority of dental education programmes require students to buy artificial teeth that are used inside a mouth model and must be replaced after each session. However, she noted that this method does not leverage the nuances of treating real patients.

“I think this equipment will allow our students to have an additional opportunity to learn the finer points of dental procedures and to practise that routinely at a much lower cost,” Werth commented. “With this, they will be able to practise again and again immediately. Another thing that excites me about this is the capability to scan someone’s mouth. That scan can be downloaded on to this equipment so they literally can practise the skills and techniques over and over until they reach near perfection. That’s a tool that is priceless,” she concluded.

Editorial note:

More information about haptics can be found here.

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