Dental Tribune USA

Dental implant procedures go virtual

By Paula Hinely, USA
June 15, 2009

AUGUSTA, GA, USA: The Virtual Dental Implant Training Simulation Program, a realistic computer game designed to help students in diagnostics, decision-making and treatment protocols, will soon be used to help dental students worldwide learn and reinforce dental implant procedures. It was designed by the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) School of Dentistry’s staff and dental students and BreakAway, Ltd., a developer of game-based technology for training, experimentation and decision-making analysis.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the global dental and medical communities to use virtual reality and simulation as a tool to convey and reinforce information and ensure competency levels,” says Dr Roman Cibirka, MCG Vice-President for Instruction and Enrolment Management and the programme’s project director.

About 25 per cent of adults 60 and older no longer have any natural teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the need for dental implants could increase with the country’s ageing population. “The programme was an opportunity to align the defined need to enhance the depth and penetration of implant therapy knowledge in undergraduate dental education with my vision of using gaming to reach the millennial student,” Dr Cibirka says. His objectives were instructional effectiveness, patient safety and a fun learning environment for the students.

The implant simulation game uses multiple patients and clinical scenarios that can be randomly selected, letting students interact with patients by asking about their medical history, examining them and arriving at a diagnosis. Like humans, the virtual patients have different personalities, and students must tailor treatment based on the mental, physical and emotional needs of the individual.

The game uses Pulse!! Virtual Clinical Learning Lab, developed by BreakAway in partnership with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi through funding from the Office of Naval Research. As effective as the learning tool is, it is intended to supplement—not replace—actual clinical training. “It’s anytime, anywhere education—a classroom without walls,” Dr Cibirka says. “I think it really fortifies the entire educational experience and capitalises on the needs of this generation.”

The programme was funded as part of a US$6.2 million contract between MCG and Nobel Biocare and is now being evaluated for functionality and instructional usefulness by more than 20 dental schools in the Nobel Biocare University Partnership Program. This summer it will be launched at 25 universities worldwide, potentially reaching 15,000 dental students, according to Dr Cibirka.

In most instances, the programme will be used during the third and fourth years of dental education, depending on the curricula of each institution. Dr Cibirka hopes it will be part of MCG’s dental curriculum soon. “We want the students that we graduate to be the best dentists they can be because they have learned better and feel more confident in the techniques they’ve learned, and this is another tool to do so,” Dr Cibirka concludes.

(Edited by Claudia Salwiczek, DTI)

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