UW News

May 6, 2010

Biggest mouth in Seattle opens wide to promote oral health

School Of Dentistry

Teeth-rattling blasts and thunderous rumbles filled the air at the Pacific Science Center on April 27 as a new oral health game developed with School of Dentistry input had its official debut.


A VIP party for the “Attack of the S. Mutans” exhibit and game drew more than 140 people to the Seattle museum, where guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and played the new interactive 3-D game.


School of Dentistry faculty and researchers worked with Firsthand Technology of Seattle to develop “Attack of the S. Mutans,” which runs at Pacific Science Center through May 31. The 15-minute game, aimed at children ages 8 and up, takes players into a virtual environment inside the human mouth.


There, players see how Streptococcus mutans bacteria gobble sugars and carbohydrates and produce lactic acid that attacks teeth and causes decay. Using a Wii-type controller, players blast away the acid and bacteria — and pick up a scientifically solid message as they do.


In addition to the game, the exhibit features other interactive displays to promote better oral health.


At the VIP party, long lines piled up outside the game booths as players battled — loudly — the menacing animated bacteria with the help of Dentisha, their animated on-screen guide.


“It makes you want to go home and floss,” one woman murmured to another player as they confronted a hulking green strep bug.


Guests included School of Dentistry faculty and members of the area’s public health network. Many brought their children, who were clearly delighted by the game. Asked what he liked best, one 7-year-old said: “Where you get to shoot off big chunky parts.”


Firsthand Technology consulted with Dr. Peter Milgrom of Dental Health Public Sciences to work out the oral health science behind the game. The exhibit, which was developed with a National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research grant, will also be used to determine how effectively game-playing changes children’s behavior. Dr. Jacqueline Pickrell, also of Dental Public Health Sciences, who is principal investigator for the grant, will conduct the research. She also worked closely with Firsthand Technology in developing the exhibit.


“The vehicle of a high-quality 3-D game enables us to engage kids with science and an important health message through the medium of play,” said Howard Rose, Firsthand president and creative director. “Our goal is to have kids visualize wiping out our oozing plaque biofilms the next time they brush their teeth.”


“Computer games help change the learning dynamic from passive to active learning in ways which children find welcome and familiar,” said Firsthand CEO Ari Hollander.


Firsthand Technology’s earlier ventures included creation of SnowWorld, a virtual arctic environment developed for Harborview Burn Center to help patients cope with pain. Plans call for the S. Mutans exhibit to go to science centers, hospitals, oral health programs and communities around the country. A home version is also envisioned.