A new program is giving dental students a unique opportunity to practice administering injections in a virtual reality environment.

Denise Higgins, a lecturer in Oral Health and Simulation Coordinator at the University of Newcastle, says that before the VR program, students would attend a lecture and watch a demo before practising on each other and then treating real patients.

“From listening to student feedback over the years, I knew they felt they were missing something between the theory and practising on their peers and patients,” she said.

“Administering anaesthetic needles is an incredibly intricate process, and not something many feel confident doing without extensive practice. Ultimately, we want our patients to feel safe, comfortable and at-ease, which is why it’s crucial to ensure our students feel confident entering the patient clinic.”

Using an Oculus headset, the wearer is transported to a virtual dental clinic, where a patient awaits a procedure.

Students can access a range of scenarios, including procedures requiring palatal injections to the roof of the mouth and interdental injections between the teeth.

A target point gives students the ideal mark to place the needle and a virtual gauge displays the millilitres being administered once the user engages the needle.

“Students are really benefitting from the fact that the equipment they’re using is new, different, and fully interactive, and it is supporting their theory with practical experience,” said Associate Professor Janet Wallace.

“It’s visual, can give them feedback on their efforts, gives them confidence and a competitive edge when they enter the workforce.

“They’re much more confident to be able to work on patients and, with the aid of simulation, can perform tasks at a safe level for themselves and for the patients. At the end of the day, our goal is to produce work-ready graduates who are going to perform at their best, and this is helping us do that.”