The need for and the use of three dimensional simulation in dental education

  • Paulina Isabel Poblete Pacheco

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Despite the growing number of publications relating to three-dimension (3D) and education, the need for this technology, its usability and educational impact are not clear for dental education with the exception of haptics. The first stage of this doctoral research used a mixed method to examine key stakeholders’ views about those areas of dentistry that would benefit from having a 3D learning resource. Two hundred and five dental students, academics and graduates responded to the survey (134 females and 71 males). Results suggested that several areas of dentistry would benefit from 3D animations or simulations. Anatomy of the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) was the top priority area from the list of the identified items.

After identifying the areas of need, the researcher determined principles for e-learning and instructional design; followed by a feasibility study that identified a suitable authoring tool for the construction of a resource capable of containing 3D interactive models. A multidisciplinary team headed by the researcher developed the first iBook addressing the Tooth Morphology of the permanent dentition. The researcher collected feedback from users of the tooth morphology iBook using a mixed method experimental study, which included a questionnaire and a focus group session. Scottish and Chilean participants (n=138), from the University of Dundee and The Andes respectively, indicated that the iBook was well designed and it was a valuable resource where they could interact with the 3D models provided. These results informed the construction of a second iBook addressing the anatomy of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and masticatory system.

Two versions of the TMJ iBook were created: a 3D version containing interactive models and a 2D version holding images. The researcher designed a comparative study including a pre-test/post-test intervention and a questionnaire to compare results from the two groups (3D and 2D). Twenty-seven first-year and thirty-two third-year dental students from the University of Dundee participated. The results of the intervention revealed statistically significant improvements in the results of first-years students who used the 3D version iBook compared to those who used the 2D one. The third-year cohort results revealed no significant difference between the 2D and 3D groups. The researcher arranged two focus group sessions to gain a deeper insight into the results. From those who took part in the intervention, eleven volunteered for the focus group sessions (six first years and five third-years). Results indicated that the TMJ iBook was a valuable resource for learning. Regardless the year of study, all participants preferred the use of the 3D interactive models as they had the potential to simplify visualisation and orientation, and enhance motivation for learning.

Three key findings arose from this doctoral study. The first one indicates that several areas of dentistry would benefit from 3D resources and they would satisfy dental students’ needs. The second conclusion suggests that iBooks are a powerful, straightforward and valuable resource for creating new e-learning interactive material capable of displaying 3D models. The final finding suggests that the use of 3D interactive models have the potential to enhance learning in novice dental students, while they are capable of motivating and aiding visualisation both in junior and experienced students.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsComisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica
SupervisorSean McAleer (Supervisor), Andrew Forgie (Supervisor) & Andrew Mason (Supervisor)


  • 3D
  • Dental education

Cite this