For some time now, the term “augmented reality” has entered the common vocabulary. It is appropriate to specify that the term precisely defines the digital simulation of a three-dimensional environment, capable of providing the user with a realistic experience and the ability to interact with it. It is, therefore, an enrichment of a person’s sensory experience. The concept should not be confused with that, albeit evidently similar, of “virtual reality”, which requires more advanced technologies, relying, at the same time, on the greater simplicity of the interface.
In the dental sector, teaching is one of the fields with the greatest interest in the application of technologies based on the simulation of real procedures. This allows to carry out psychomotor training that facilitates treating patients with greater safety.
Recently, an interesting study, conducted by Mladenovic and colleagues and published in the European Journal of Dental Education, has evaluated the potential of the method in the training undergraduate dentists. The latter were specifically trained in view of the first anesthesiological treatment for a pediatric subject. The study also compared the conventional teaching method.
Virtual reality in dental anesthesia training
A total of 21 fourth and fifth year students were involved in a five-year study program.
Participants were randomly divided. The control group was given theoretical lessons and demonstrations on plastic jaw models. The study group, in addition to the conventional learning just explained, experimented with augmented reality technology for an amount of two hours per week for two weeks.
From there, the study moved to the practical phase, which , involved a sample of pediatric patients referred to treatment after anesthesia. The precisely investigated technique consisted of an anterior superior alveolar nerve block, through supraperiosteal infiltration of the apical region of the target tooth. Augmented reality had already been successfully tested, for the lower alveolar block, in a previous study by the same working group.
The study group students took an average of 28.91 ± 9.06 seconds to identify the anatomical landmarks, a significantly shorter time (measured from the removal from the needle cap at the beginning of the administration of the drug) than the average of the control (39.80 ± 9.29 seconds).
In order to objectively assess the operator’s stress, salivary withdrawals of cortisol were made before and after the procedure, in the expectation that the study group would undergo a lower increase. In this case, no significant differences were found.
Net of the limitations, concerning in particular the patient aspect of the procedure, the authors concluded that augmented reality is a valid learning aid. At present, the advantage is found, however, only regarding handling of the anesthetic syringe.