SimTeeth, real training

Dental students know that one of the integral parts of their training is sharpening psychomotor skills. Now, a new computerized teaching method helps future dentists become proficient at two times the rate of students taught with conventional methods.

This success rate brings a smile to Judith Buchanan’s face.

“Twenty-five percent of the whole curriculum is teaching psychomotor skills to future dentists,” said Buchanan, associate dean of academic affairs and associate professor of Community Oral Health at the School of Dental Medicine (SDM). “Our students really have to have the hand-eye coordination.”

Dental Simulator

The DentSim training simulator in action

Penn’s dental school is the first in the world to include the virtual reality technology of DentSim in the classroom.

As of this school year, every dental student will have hands-on practice in the 15-unit lab.

The dental simulator lab looks and feels more like a clinical setting than the old lab, which has long lab benches and dentiforms mounted to poles.

“This doesn’t look like a patient,” said Buchanan, gesturing around the old lab. “It builds a lot of bad habits.”

In the new DentSim lab, students practice drilling techniques using the same instruments used in clinics, including foot pedals and suction tools. Teeth models are placed in the mouths of plastic mannequins and infrared attachments transmit the drilling onto a computer screen, mounted in front of students.

Buchanan explained that students click on the course for which they are practicing and are presented with a patient chart with a health history, X-rays of the decaying tooth and a visual example of an ideal tooth.

There are guidelines for drilling depth and hand position. Bright green dots on a virtual image of the tooth indicate areas of decay. When students make serious mistakes, such as drilling too far into the tooth, the computer responds with an audible “ping.”

At any point, students can receive instant feedback and watch a virtual playback of their work. All of their work is saved, so students can practice their techniques until they submit their best lessons.

Buchanan was the principal investigator in three studies that found DentSim more effective at teaching students than the old method. “You just get so much more,” she said. “[Students] have so much more confidence in picking up a handpiece.”

She said that the dental simulator standard also eliminates a variety in grading and will allow the SDM to move more faculty into clinics.

“This does everything right,” she said. “This gives feedback instantly. … It’s easy to use.”

Last story in sequence
Front page for this issue
Next story in sequence

Originally published on October 16, 2003