HELSINKI, Finland: In 2021, 50 dentistry students embarked on a learning journey within the new facilities of the Oral and Dental Centre at the University of Helsinki. Planmeca provided simulation equipment for the centre’s skills laboratory, in which the students get their first introduction to the artistry of dentistry. While Planmeca solutions have facilitated the incorporation of the latest digital technologies into the dentistry curriculum, they have also enabled new approaches to teaching.
Equipped with 59 Planmeca Compact iSim simulation units and three Planmeca Compact i Classic dental units for live demonstrations, the skills laboratory provides dental students with a trailblazing learning environment for the training of basic clinical procedures. For many students, visiting the skills laboratory and using the simulation units for the first time remains a memorable highlight of their training for years to come.
Navigating traditional and digital dentistry
Four years ago, the dental curriculum of the University of Helsinki was revised to include courses on digital dentistry.
“With the curriculum update, we wanted to ensure our department can keep up with the latest technological developments in dentistry. With our digital dentistry curriculum, we are now teaching digital workflows and offering digital implant planning and clear aligner courses,” said Dr Antti Kämppi, university lecturer and vice head of the dental undergraduate programme at the university.
In Finland, the duration of dentistry studies has been determined for all universities by a government decree. Accordingly, the studies span five and a half years, leading to a Licentiate in Dentistry degree, which is equivalent to the degree of Doctor of Dental Science. Five of those years are dedicated to theoretical and clinical studies at the university, followed by six months of practical training at a dental practice.
The challenge faced by the University of Helsinki—balancing traditional and digital methods in dentistry within a fixed time frame—mirrors that of dental universities worldwide. The digital revolution affects not only prosthetics but also other areas of dentistry. For example, it is already common to use automated devices for root canal treatment instead of hand instrumentation. For dental schools, it is necessary to cover both.
According to Dr Kämppi, the university would like to extend the dental curriculum by six months in order to focus on the latest technologies and future technological developments. However, since this is not possible, it has had to find other ways to keep up with the development of digital dentistry.
This means, for example, incorporating software in the preclinical learning environment. Planmeca Romexis software is available at every simulation unit, which allows students to view radiographic images directly at their units. This streamlines the teaching of different dental specialties utilising radiology. Students also learn to capture intra-oral images with two Planmeca ProX intra-oral imaging simulation units. The captured images are then available at any workstation.
Six Planmeca Emerald S intra-oral scanners are also actively used in the teaching of digital workflows. In addition, the scanners combined with Romexis software have proved useful for self-evaluation.
“Our students can prep a tooth, scan it with Planmeca Emerald S and analyse the preparation in Romexis, comparing their results with an example preparation. The students can always discuss their performance with a teacher, too, but ideally, Romexis helps them analyse the scans by themselves and spot the areas in which tissue still needs to be removed,” explained Dr Kämppi.
Mastering ergonomics in the spotlight
Compact instrument consoles, excellent usability and easy adaptability to suit different learning scenarios and preferences were some of the reasons why Planmeca Compact iSim simulation units were selected for the skills laboratory. Furthermore, each simulation unit has a relatively small footprint and its structure allows the clearing up of space on the table for a wide range of exercises.
With Planmeca Compact iSim units, students can also focus on adopting correct working ergonomics from day one. The unit allows working both in sitting and standing positions and offers equally good ergonomics for both right- and left-handed users. The height and angle of the monitor can be flexibly adjusted. In addition, the phantom heads of the simulation units move in the same way that real heads would do.
“Good ergonomics is something we pay attention to from day one, even if some of our students would rather focus fully on dental procedures and consider ergonomics only after they have mastered different techniques with their hands. But it is always difficult to get rid of the habits you have already gotten used to, so learning good ergonomics from the get-go actually makes practising dentistry much more comfortable in the long run,” explained Dr Jaana Rautava, associate professor and head of the dental undergraduate programme.
The Oral and Dental Centre also houses the dental wards of the HUS university hospital and the city of Helsinki. The skills acquired in the simulation laboratory are later used in training in the dental wards and finally in dental practices. Since Planmeca simulation units have the same functions and features as actual Planmeca dental units, dentistry students from the University of Helsinki often find the transition from preclinical to clinical work easy.
“Plenty of dental practices all around Finland have opted for Planmeca dental units, which is why it is quite easy to adapt to the daily work at a dental practice when you are already familiar with Planmeca solutions,” said Dr Kämppi.
Operating lights enable new dimension in teaching
Digital technology also introduces novel possibilities for teaching dentistry in a modern and compelling way. At the University of Helsinki, the intelligent Planmeca Solanna Vision operating light is regularly used to demonstrate dental procedures as it is capable of recording treatment sessions with two integrated 4K cameras.
The three Planmeca Compact i Classic dental units of the skills laboratory are equipped with Planmeca Solanna Vision operating lights to livestream actual patient treatments to students.
“I am extremely happy with the various opportunities that Planmeca’s state-of-the-art technology offers for teaching. The three demo units of our skills laboratory allow me to stream patient treatments to our students while I explain what I am doing and why. We have actually installed two-way audio systems, so that the students can also ask questions during the treatment and I can answer them simultaneously. This allows us to engage the students in a new and compelling way in comparison to just giving them top-down instructions,” commented Dr Kämppi.
“Feedback from these sessions have been extremely positive. Our students really appreciate this approach to teaching,” said Dr Rautava.
Mapping the future with artificial reality
Planmeca was the first dental equipment manufacturer to provide a solution to combine three sets of 3D data—a CBCT image, a 3D face photo and an intra-oral scan—to create a virtual patient. Now, the university is planning to utilise this data in dental education—in combination with artificial reality (AR) solutions. For capturing CBCT images and 3D face photos, the university uses Planmeca Viso G5 imaging unit with an integrated Planmeca ProFace system.
“For me, personally, digital dentistry is of particular interest. I enjoy being able to integrate it into our studies and figure out new ways to visualising treatment options to students. Currently, we are investigating opportunities to integrate AR solutions into our learning environment. We want to map CBCT images, 3D face photos captured with Planmeca ProFace, intra-oral scans and MRI data together and examine it in artificial reality,” emphasised Dr Kämppi.
“The future is digital, and I feel it is a positive competitive advantage for us that we have the latest technology available for our students,” concluded Dr Rautava.