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Dental Surgery becomes digital

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Dr. Mike Newman* is an advocate of the use of an interactive surgical simulator for dental healthcare professionals. We asked him to help us shed light on this new and exciting possibility.

Dr. Giulia Cerino | Switzerland

How did the idea develop of having an app that could provide interactive surgical simulations?

Dr. Newman: The original idea was developed by two surgeons based in London, who were interfacing daily with different problems in the operating room. Fortunately, however, they were pretty good with game simulation. So, one day in their apartment they developed a first simulation prototype and shared it with their colleagues in London. The idea was successful, and they decided to turn it into a business. Since then, there have been over 17 peer-reviewed independent publications validating that using the app can improve performance.

Who is the main target?

Dr. Newman: Anyone who wants more opportunities for expanding their surgical practice. Another example is in countries where there is still a lack of access to a high-quality surgery education. Here the possibility to use these digital tools is certainly a valuable help.

Dentistry did not immediately enter among the medical specialties available...

Dr. Newman: Simulation in dentistry is over 20 years old but generally refers to the use of phantoms or mannequins. Periodontal and implant surgical simulations with the app have only recently been developed following previously established procedures for general and oral maxillofacial surgery.

Do you think that simulated training can totally replace hands-on courses or phantom heads?

Dr. Newman: No, I don't. I think both should be used–hands on courses/phantom heads and interactive surgical simulators. In my opinion, the main weakness of hands-on courses is that once back home most of the details are forgotten and maybe a lot of time passes between the course and when the clinician really does the surgery. The simulator provides a realistic and detailed guide to every step of a procedure. Users can quickly learn surgery, instantly test their knowledge, and rehearse as many times as they want for surgery, thus reducing the chances of forgetting, and improving their performance.

What procedures are currently available?

Dr. Newman: Two simulations for implant placement plus a simulation developed by me and Dr. Michael McGuire on the use of connective tissue graft for root coverage. Further procedures are in the pipeline.

And the feedback is positive?

Dr. Newman: Yes, very positive. The simulation related to the use of connective tissue graft has been seen more than 50,000 times over the last two years. More than 110,000 people have seen the simulations related to dental implants. I think the positive aspect is related to the many independent publications that validate the use of the system. 

Is the use of this digital technology already integrated in university courses?

Dr. Newman: It started recently. There is a virtual residency program that enables program directors, surgeons and residents to effectively manage and share surgical learning within residency programs.

Currently in the United States, 172 program directors have integrated the use of the application into the medical surgery residency programs. It is possible to track the progress and scores of residents. For example, residents are not allowed to perform surgeries if they have not successfully completed the training on the app. A pilot program in periodontology has also begun at four universities: Columbia, Tufts, Iowa and North Carolina.

The use of this app is mainly based on the development of cognitive rather than physical abilities. Do you think research is moving towards the development of tools that have a greater impact on physical skills as well?

Dr. Newman: I think it is inevitable, and most digital technologies are moving towards enhancing physical skills. And digitalization also applies to textbooks as well. The percentage of pure printed books is decreasing in favor of books that have a digital presence. Also, my book Newman and Carranza's Clinical Periodontology now has a print-digital version.

It is important to realize that the way in which students learn has changed, they are multitasking and prefer digital. They may be sitting on a bus and can learn by reading one of their digital books or training for surgery!

Do you see any disadvantages to the digitization of information?

Dr. Newman: Yes, the amount of information available is overwhelming. The more you have, the more difficult it is to distinguish what is good and what you need. You must acquire the tools to help evaluate the information!

Dr. Giulia Cerino

Dr. Giulia Cerino | Switzerland

Manager Medical Communications
Geistlich Pharma

*Dr. Newman is an advisor to Touch Surgery

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