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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 8 | June 6, 2002

Dental Students Invent Cyber Tooth Training

Pulling teeth out of the textbook gives students new perspective.

By Hilary Thomson

An interactive 3-D teaching tool built by Faculty of Dentistry undergraduate students is about to revolutionize how students learn the anatomy of teeth by taking dental education out of the classroom and into cyberspace.

Until now, students have relied on lectures, slides and textbook drawings to learn about tooth structure.

But all that is changing with the Virtual Tooth Reality project, believed to be the only program of its kind in North America, which allows students to learn about shapes and structures of teeth using 3-D images of real teeth that can be rotated on-screen to be viewed from a variety of angles. Hot links on specific areas lead students to text references.

UBC dental students first used the interactive resource in September 2001. Response was overwhelmingly positive and the faculty plans to market the program to other universities.

"The beauty of this resource is that students can learn about complex tooth anatomy at their own pace and initiative both at school and at home," says Babak Chehroudi, a clinical assistant professor of Oral, Biological and Medical Sciences. "Instructors can take students to a computer bay in the clinic to view images and prepare for a procedure. It's a student-centered tool that complements our problem-based learning format."

Students Jordan Catherall and Peter Luu started working on the project last summer after their first year in Dentistry and are making further improvements this summer.

The first challenge was finding 28 perfect adult human teeth. Wisdom teeth are variable in structure so were not included in the project. Artificial teeth are often used for teaching, however, they differ in shape and colouring from natural teeth. A scavenger hunt for teeth took them to dentists' offices and teaching and research labs.

Using a motorized rig, a turntable stand to hold the tooth and a digital camera, the students took 360 pictures - one picture for every 10 degrees of rotation - of each tooth. They highlighted key areas using partial cross-sections and dyes.

"Getting set up and managing the details of the project were tough," says Catherall. "But it was a great chance for me to learn more about anatomy and to help others learn, too."

Computer Science student Colin Ng wrote software that allowed the rig and computer systems to talk to each other.

"It's been amazing to see the excitement and interest in this project from other dental schools," says Luu.

He and Catherall earned second place in a research poster competition at a recent meeting of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). Abstracts on the project have also been published in the Journal of Dental Education.

"We were overwhelmed by the interest at the ADEA meeting - this program has so much potential for both dental and medical schools, " says Chehroudi.

This summer the students will develop the site to include endodontic images that show crowns, roots, internal pulp and surrounding tissues as well as descriptions of restorative procedures.

They say they have been 'negotiating with the Tooth Fairy' to secure children's teeth to add images of primary teeth to the program. They will also add more text hyperlinks and plan to create a streaming video and animated movies that will show whole procedures on-line.

Support for this project came from UBC's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund and from faculty members Prof. Don Brunette, Asst. Prof. Jeff Coil, Assoc. Prof. Lance Rucker with photography support provided by Bruce McCaughey.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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