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Interactive technology facilitates modes of processing, sharing of and interacting with information which until recently were unachievable. Discussed in this issue of CDTL Brief on Interactive Technology in Education are ways that interactive technologies can be used as powerful tools and environments for students to relate classroom theory to industry practices, develop higher order thinking skills and train health care providers.

May 2004, Vol. 7, No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Interactive 3D Computer Technology in Orthodontic Education
Associate Professor Kelvin Foong
Department of Preventive Dentistry
Associate Professor Keng Siong Beng
Department of Restorative Dentistry

Tok Wee Wah

IT Unit, Faculty of Dentistry

Computer technology may be harnessed to facilitate learning. In the area of biomedical health education, computer technology is especially useful in the training of health care providers who deal on a daily basis, with people who are diseased or deformed through birth and accidents. In this context, the training of dental surgeons can be optimised through the use of interactive 3D computer vision technology. In a well-designed system, human-computer interaction would provide an engaging learning experience for the user.

Advances in software and hardware technology permit the creation of any virtual 3D environment. In such environments, learning is facilitated by computer techniques such as 3D visualisation, simulation as well as animation. These environments may incorporate virtual learning maps for the learner to navigate with purpose by checking in at learning stations. In addition, the flexibility of repeating a learning station reinforces learning.

The essential component of effective learning in a virtual environment is the input-feedback capability of the system. Against a dynamic multimodal database of knowledge, the software can be tailored to provide accurate feedback to the learner while he/she navigates through each learning station. Building artificial intelligence into such a system permits the knowledge database to recognise trends in user input. An added dimension of interactive technology is the ability to add the sense of touch—haptic sense and prehension (reach and grasp). Together with a capability to integrate the different modes of data (text, sound, 3D images and time), an intelligent 3D learning environment has the potential to engage the learner, recognise input and provide real-time feedback.

In orthodontics, the use of interactive 3D technology is particularly appropriate as a learning platform. Orthodontists manage the dentition, modify growth of the facial skeleton and improve the function of the orofacial musculature. The craniofacial skeleton, the dentition and the facial soft tissues are three-dimensional structures that are ideal for virtual representation in a learning environment through spatial and temporal visualisation as well as simulation. The representative 3D virtual shapes of these facial and skeletal structures may be altered, cut through, moved in parts or whole and animated. The surfaces of these 3D shapes may also be coloured and textured.

The potential of using interactive 3D computer technology to teach orthodontics is highlighted in a selection of orthodontic topics taught in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum at NUS. For example when teaching orthodontic techniques, 3D reconstructions of orthodontic appliances (devices) may be viewed in any preferred orientation by the user who could possibly visualise how a complicated wire pattern is constructed or how a particular device works through 3D animation. The training of students for accurate bracket placements may be first conducted by getting the graduate student to place a virtual bracket as accurately as possible on the virtual tooth. The computer system will recognise whether the bracket has been positioned correctly and gives the error margin. In planning orthodontic treatment, the decision to extract or not to extract teeth may be simplified through an interactive system which permits the teeth to be moved around to find the best possible arrangement. Similarly, surgical management and the approaches used to correct abnormal jaws may also be simulated. The optimal arrangement of a set of teeth and the sense of depth and touch may be simulated prior to actual surgical procedure for both the orthodontist and surgeon respectively. Biomechanical information may also be incorporated into 3D appliance models for simulation of how the teeth may move.

The applications of interactive 3D technology in orthodontic education are numerous. Not only is 3D technology applicable to biological sciences and clinical management, it also has a huge potential to enhance direct and distance learning. Thus, 3D technology should be viewed as adjunctive and complementary to the clinical practice of orthodontics. With the availability of high speed computers, learning the basics of orthodontics has never been easier. In fact, learning the nuts and bolts of orthodontics is now more fun and exciting especially with interactive 3D technology.

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Inside this issue
Helping Students Relate Classroom Theory to Practice in Industry: Design Considerations for Web-based Simulations
Design and Evaluation of a Chemistry Computer Software for NUS Students
Interactive 3D Computer Technology in Orthodontic Education