A virtual toothache helps student dentists

July 21, 2008

Masha is a dental patient. Her oral health problems continue to change as she meets new Case Western Reserve University student dentists in Second Life's virtual dental office.

The middle-aged avatar is an integral part of a new research project of the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences department of communication sciences to teach and give students practice time to communicate with mock patients.

Not only do findings from the study have potential to revolutionize dental education but also to change the way national testing is done for patient-side communication skills.

Kristin Z. Victoroff from the dental medicine's department of community dentistry will direct the three-year Innovative Dental Assessment Research and Development (IDEA) Grant project from the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. She will develop patient communication scenarios for simulated education and test their effectiveness in preclinical training for students.

"More dental schools are experimenting with simulation as a way to teach," said Victoroff. She is joined in the research project by Roma Jasinevicius and Catherine Demko from the dental school faculty in testing and implementing simulations in dental education at the university.

Since 2001, the Case Western Reserve dental school has been on the forefront in using simulations in teaching the physical dexterity skills by using a technology called DentSim (www.denx.com/>). DentSim is a simulated and computerized training system that uses a simulated dental patient. The school's use of the technology in dental education was spearheaded by Jasinevicius.

From that technology, the attention turned to developing what Victoroff's describes simulated experiences for the "softer" skills of dental medicine—communicating with patients.

Victoroff enlisted virtual reality experts and Art and Sciences' communication disorder scientists Stacy Williams, who directs the Virtual Immersion Center for Simulation Research (VICSR), and Kyra Rothenberg, director of the health communications minor.

They will take three approaches to simulated communications training—live actors, the immersion theater where students interact with a virtual patient in a 180-degree surround theater and with avatars, like Masha, in Second Life.

Of the three simulation methods, Victoroff is interested in using the immersion theater and Second Life. She noted that paper-based, live actors and real patients present limitations from ethical issues to logistical challenges. Meanwhile, the interactive theater and Second Life have capabilities to assess competencies in a convenient, standardized and cost-effective situation.

According to Victoroff, if successful, the virtual scenarios in an immersion theater setting or the online Second Life community might provide a potentially better way of assessing a student's abilities to communicate with patients than the current multiple-choice questions on the national examinations required for practicing professionally.

During spring semester, 70 students in the third-year dental class participated in a pilot study to develop their communication skills with live actors and virtual patients during communication skills training at the Mt. Sinai Skills and Simulation Center at the Veterans Administration Hospital.

The research project focuses on developing scenarios that aid and test students in taking patient histories, providing oral health education like tobacco cessation counseling for smokers, explaining procedures, talking about healthcare options and obtaining informed consent, and working through situations that present ethical dilemmas. These are among the competencies outlined by the American Dental Education Association.

Along with communication sciences students, the use of the virtual reality theater by dental students will advance the researchers understanding in how this technology can be applied to teaching and assessing students in different disciplines. The dental students will use a portable 50-inch LCD panel instead of the larger fixed 180-degree theater. In real time, the students interact and communicate with Masha.

"Ideally it is not that we are out to prove that virtual worlds or the VICSR system is better than standard instruction, but that they are of equal value," said Williams, adding that students should be able to walk away learning the same types of knowledge they can learn from working with live patients.

Students are very accepting of the VICR environment and put a lot of reflection in their voices when they are talking to the animated characters, said Williams.

Rothenberg will piece together students' motivations and perceptions when using this technology for their education.

According to Rothenberg who works in health communications, VICSR is already showing positive results from communication science students and patients using the virtual theater for their education and speech therapy.

"Virtual patients have much to offer in training healthcare providers, and it is equally important to explore how interactive virtual reality technology can enhance assessment of competency," said Victoroff.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

Explore further: Household environment—not genetics—shapes salivary microbes

Related Stories

Household environment—not genetics—shapes salivary microbes

September 12, 2017
Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered that the mix of microorganisms that inhabit a person's saliva are largely determined by the human host's household. The study, published this week in mBio, an open-access ...

'Virtual dental homes' prove safe, effective in six-year California study

August 2, 2016
Bringing "virtual dental homes" to schools, nursing homes and long-term care facilities can keep people healthy - reducing school absenteeism, lessening the need for parents to leave work to care for an ailing child, and ...

Dental sleep medicine classes reach across the border

May 29, 2013
The field of dental sleep medicine was barely out of its infancy when Tufts faculty realized the importance of training students to screen, diagnose and treat sleep disorders. In 2009, the school became the first in the U.S. ...

Virtual microscopy: New online resource for educators and researchers

April 17, 2017
A medical student in Michigan. A nursing student in Ghana. An anatomy professor in Brazil. A researcher in Australia. All need to learn—or teach—about the human body at the most basic level.

Professor's app breaks the mould to create a new one

September 20, 2013
Les Kalman lives outside the box. And in your mouth.

'Smart' mannequins breathe life into medical scenarios

December 12, 2013
"This is the worst pain ever!" screams a woman in the delivery ward, her eyelids fluttering as the baby's skull crowns between her legs."

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.