Incorporating the use of Haptic simulators in dental education & engaging students in sustainable practice

Rachel McLean
Rachel McLean • 20 November 2023

SusQI project completed by the Dentistry team as part of The North East London Health & Care Partnership Green Team Competition, 2023.


The acquisition of manual dexterity and tactile sensory surgical skills are essential in Dentistry. Conventionally, students learn pre-clinical skills through practicing to drill plastic teeth on phantom (dummy) heads. This method is non-patient facing, however replicates the full surgery set up utilising PPE, drills, single use cutting burs, filling materials, instruments and single use consumables (e.g. suction, barrier coverings, filling materials). 

Queen Mary Institute of Dentistry has invested £1.7 million on 42 Simodont Haptic simulators (at a cost of £41,000 each). Haptic simulators utilise an immersive 3D virtual environment combined with motor and tactile perceptions to replicate sensations such as drilling teeth. Students can start to practice these skills earlier (in year one of study) with feedback given continuously and instantaneously via the simulator.

Team members: 

  • Project lead - Zahra Shehabi (Consultant in Special Care Dentistry.
  • Alessandra Booth (Dental Core Trainee and Academic Clinical Fellow). 
  • Giulia Pintaritsch (4th Year Dental Student).


To assess the impact of the newly purchased Haptic Dental Simulators across the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial) using a SusQI approach.

Method & Impact;

The simulators were purchased and first used in October 2022 and have been used intermittently since. A full roll out from September 2023 is planned. Process mapping was undertaken to identify areas where savings in social, environmental and financial resource use could be achieved using the Haptic simulators.

Data items saved on the haptics server showed that undergraduates in Year one and Year three are the main users of the haptic simulators. To ensure a like-for-like comparison between the conventional method using plastic teeth and the haptic simulator, BDS year one items saved were removed from the data totals of the Haptic simulator as students do not start practicing pre-clinical skills using the conventional method until their second year. This resulted in a total of 1040 items saved over a six-month period.

Projected across a year, use of the Haptics simulator saves 12,834 kgCO2e, equivalent to driving 37,903 miles in an average car. We estimate 21 years for the Haptics Simulators to be cost neutral based on assumptions and lowest costs for the traditional method however this is likely an overestimation as we needed to reply on simulator data saved by students to assume usage, and there is potential for a wider range of students to use the device. 

Socially, and with potential impacts clinically, students had mixed opinions on use of the Haptics Simulators, with only a third reporting they prefer the haptic simulator method. 

“The haptics have made me feel better about how my learning impacts the environment when compared to working in the lab where we are producing a lot of waste”

“The benefits of plastic teeth outweighs the waste part”

As a result, an engagement initiative with students was launched including clinician input into the student prevention volunteering programme, Barts Community Smiles, to incorporate sustainability into the preventative advice given to members of the community and a workshop arranged with students on sustainability in dentistry.


Click here for more information on the Green Team Competition (including organisation impact reports).

Resource author(s)
Zahra Shehabi (Consultant in special care dentistry), Alessandra Booth (dental care trainee & academic fellow), Giulia Pintaritsch (4th year denatl student)
Resource publishing organisation(s) or journal
Barts Health NHS Trust (part of the North East London Health & Care Partnership Green team competition)
Resource publication date
November 2023

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