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Dentists are turning to virtual reality to help patients

The idea has come from British technologists (Plymouth University), with the aim of examining whether virtual reality can distract patients and ease the perception of pain and anxiety. To test this, the researchers, led by Dr. Sabine Pahl, asked 79 volunteer subjects (aged 18 or older) who were in need of a tooth pulled or cavity filled to take part in an unusual experiment.

The 79 subjects, Engadget reports, were split into three groups. Group one viewed a virtual reality projected coastal scene; group two became immersed in a virtual city; and group three drew the short straw and were shown no virtual reality at all.

READ MORE: Teething trouble: the worse U.S. dental records revealed

With the findings, group one, who viewed the ocean scenes experienced “significantly less pain” compared with the other two groups. Little benefit was seen with the group who viewed the city, suggesting that the images and degree of serenity mattered. Nevertheless, taking the success of the ocean scene, the findings suggest that some forms of virtual reality can impart a therapeutic potential for helping people deal with stressful events.


Philippe Huguen, AFP/File

READ MORE: Dentists offer top hygiene tips for 2017

The virtual reality not only helped patients at the time, follow-up studies found that the patients who used virtual reality experienced less “recalled pain” memories (something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder) some days after the completion of the dentistry. The study matches other research which suggest virtual reality can help with stressful events. The theory runs that virtual reality can help to improve prolonged exposure because it creates fictitious, safe, and controllable situations that can enhance emotional engagement and acceptance.

Curious to see what the patients saw? The video below gives a taster:

The dentistry virtual reality research has been published in the journal Environment and Behavior. The research paper is titled “The Soothing Sea: A Virtual Coastal Walk Can Reduce Experienced and Recollected Pain.”

In related dentistry news, a downside with root canal surgery is that teeth can become brittle and they can eventually fracture. Hope could be on the horizon: a new process, involving the engineering of new blood vessels in teeth, could prevent this.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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