You may have heard about a new app called “Dental Surgery” for the iPhone and iPad. It’s a game where the player gets to perform dental procedures on virtual patients. It was created by Maura Thompson, who apparently isn’t a dentist but who did a little research when developing her product. I downloaded it the other day and wanted to share my thoughts.
Let me just come right out and say that it is not very fun. The game is rated by users at two out of five stars, so it’s not just my opinion. The graphics are fine and the concept is great, but the gameplay gets stale pretty quickly. There are only so many dental procedures you get to do that it becomes a bit repetitive.
Another fault is that the dentistry was not carefully researched. I understand that the virtual procedures need to be simplified and made more entertaining than real dentistry, but there are certain inconsistencies that really bothered me.
The main obstacle is the lack of a tutorial. I’m a dentist and even I couldn’t figure out how to treat my virtual patients. But I stuck with it and eventually was able to get the hang of it.
What did I like about the game? Well the app is free, so there’s that. And I guess you could make the case that the game portrays dentists in a positive light. We could easily imagine a game where the dentist was a villain torturing his patients for points and high scores. So hooray for the developers making the dentist a good guy for once.
But here is my question: would you want your patients playing this game? I’m not so sure. The virtual procedures are actually quite difficult (or maybe my fingers are just too big for my iPhone). If the player makes a mistake, the problem gets worse and requires more invasive treatment. That might generate some anxiety for a player who is a patient of yours.
For example, if you don’t scale calculus from a tooth correctly, the tooth now needs to have a filling. That’s a bit harsh, no? And some virtual patients request nitrous oxide as an anesthetic instead of “novocaine,” which may give patients the impression that procedures such as placing dental implants can be done without having to ever see a needle.
Ultimately I appreciate the effort that the game developer made. Showing dentists in a positive light is refreshing. This game is a missed opportunity to educate patients more about our profession, but I think it was designed more for fun than education. Unfortunately the lack of research on procedures may add to patient anxiety.