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News Students get their teeth into mobile dentist project

Staffordshire University students hope their innovative designs for a mobile dentist surgery will help to put a smile back on faces across the UK

Students have been working on initial designs for the project
Image: Students have been working on initial designs for the project

It has really brought to life everything that we’ve learned on the course and enabled us to put those skills into practice.

Deborah Stratford, MSc Human Factors for Patient Safety

With dental check-ups and treatments significantly reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic experts are warning of the long-term impacts on our dental health. To help dentists get back on track, students have been challenged with designing a specially equipped vehicle to meet demand and reach more patients.

The collaborative project sees MSc Human Factors for Patient Safety students working alongside the Industrial Design: Product and Transport and Engineering Design undergraduates. Throughout the process, students across the courses are being mentored by John Lovegrove, Founder of Canary Designs, who has over 20 years of experience in the inclusion of human factors and ergonomics within industrial and health applications

Susan Whalley-Lloyd, MSc Human Factors for Patient Safety course leader, said: “During this course we look at understanding the impact of design on performance and patient health, wellbeing and safety.

“This project allows our students to be involved in the design process and get a better appreciation of why it’s important to specify things well. On the other side, the designers will understand much better what it’s like to work to a customer brief and the importance of embedding human factors during design.”

After conducting interviews with dental professionals, the MSc Human Factors for Patient Safety students provided their teammates with the spec for the vehicle design.

Student Deborah Stratford, from Stone, has a special interest in the project having worked as a dental hygienist for 27 years.

Deborah said: “I saw the things that I could improve in dentistry but didn’t have the knowledge to really address them. I decided to do this course to gain knowledge, experience and skills to take forward into dentistry to improve working lives of dental professionals.

“It’s been really enlightening working with the design students. They are looking to us to provide parameters of the design. It has really brought to life everything that we’ve learned on the course and enabled us to put those skills into practice.”

Five teams each have a different patient profile including someone who is pregnant, a child at their first appointment, a wheelchair user, someone with a high BMI and a blind patient. Other considerations include ventilation, access to power and how it is staffed.

Product Design student Emily Pugh, from Carbrook near Manchester, said: “Working with the other students has helped us to focus on the functionality and give our designs more of a purpose.”

Adwait Joshi, from Mumbai, who is studying Transport Design, added: “It’s really good to have multidisciplinary students interacting with one another. You get to know more about their perspective and integrate it in the design, which is how we would work in industry.”

After presenting their design concepts for feedback from their MSc teammates, the Product, Transport and Engineering Design students will spend the next two months finessing their ideas.

Susan added: “Mobile dentist initiatives like this could make treatment much more accessible for people in remote areas, older people or those who aren’t able to travel far.

“Schemes that already exist usually involve domiciliary visits with limited equipment or use very large vehicles, but we are looking at providing treatment on board something the same size as an ambulance. If our students manage to achieve a successful design on a smaller scale, then it could be really exciting for the UK.”

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