Using virtual reality to train dental professionals

In a blog for World Oral Health Day, Dr Kristina Wanyonyi and Miss Janani Sivabalan discuss whether dental professionals can improve their soft skills with virtual reality, as tested in their study registered at the ISRCTN registry.


Training in medicine and dentistry has evolved to embed technology. This has led to increased opportunities to practice clinical skills in simulated environments before undertaking procedures on patients. This has led to improved precision of skills involving dexterity and hand coordination. This is particularly important in areas such as dentistry.

Virtual reality (VR) is one of these pieces of technology in use. It allows the user to explore and manipulate computer-generated real or artificial 3D multimedia sensory environments in real time and can be used to gain practical skills. In comparison with traditional, non-technological teaching methods, VR software could result in more economical, engaging and reliable training.

External view of participants as they experience the VR simulation

Although developing high-quality and precise dental treatment techniques is a fundamental part of dental care provision and dental training, we are aware that communication and empathy also play an important role in the success of patient care. This approach to care is patient-centered.

With an increasing ageing population who are keeping their teeth for longer, dental professionals are now treating an older cohort with more complex needs, and a patient-centered approach is all the more necessary. Some of these patients may be increasingly frail and have problems with mobility, hearing, and dexterity, all of which play a role in their ability to attend a dental appointment, engage with oral hygiene instructions and practice good tooth brushing care.

How can we best care for our frail patients? If dental professionals are fully aware of the experience of these patients, they will be able to find the most appropriate ways of providing care and communicating with patients.

The study

We have developed a VR training simulation tool which mimics the visual, physical and auditory experience of an increasingly frail dental patient with complex needs (some associated with age) visiting a dentist and receiving oral health advice.

We undertook a before-and-after trial to test how acceptable the simulation was and the impact of the simulation on perceived confidence in treating frail patients. The participants of the study were training and qualified dentists and dental care professionals.

The virtual dental environment participants experience during the simulation

The findings so far

Our preliminary findings suggest that the majority of those still in training (84.6%) and qualified professionals (73.6%) found the simulation helpful and would like more simulation training. Interestingly, before-and-after scores related to confidence in treating frail patients improved significantly for those still in training and reduced for those who were qualified and practicing for a length of time.


As we continue with the analysis of our findings, the emerging evidence suggests that there is a role for VR in improving how we train our dental professionals to understand the patients’ perspective. VR could also be a part of continuous professional education for those qualified. For those qualified, this simulation may perhaps break routines, giving a different perspective of the changing patient profile.

Next steps

We are planning to finalize our analysis and seek further support to develop a more sophisticated simulation that can provide more interaction in the environment and scenarios. We hope to test the simulation with a wider group.


  1. Dr Tom Garner – Senior Lecturer in Immersive Technologies at the University of Portsmouth for support in developing the simulation
  2. Solent NHS Trust Academy of Research and Improvement

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