Virtual reality headsets relax patients visiting the dentist

Virtual reality headsets relax patients visiting the dentist

14 Jun 2017

New research from journal, Environment and Behaviour reveals that wearing a virtual-reality headset in the dentist's chair could make patients more relaxed.

Seventy-nine people who were aged 18+ participated in a coastal virtual reality walkthrough during extractions and fillings at a dentist's office in Devon. Researchers found the patients enjoyed the distraction.

Sabine Pahl is a psychologist at England's Plymouth University and worked on this virtual reality project. She said: "We know lots of people are scared of dentists."

In general, participants using virtual reality reported less pain even when accounting for differences in age, gender, dental anxiety and the treatment type or duration.

However, Pahl cautioned that it might not work for everyone. Due to some tech glitches, five patients had to drop out. Another four asked to stop. In some cases, the headset didn't fit and patients didn't like being enclosed. "You need to leave it to the patient," she said.

Previous research has shown that virtual reality can make kids calmer when local analgesia is administered. And there has been other work showing that natural environments (such as a forest) are of course more relaxing than concrete jungles.

If other dentists want to adopt something like this in their own practice, Pahl said they need to take into account practical issues – such as making sure wires and cables aren't a tripping hazard and sound doesn't prevent the patient from hearing the dentist's instructions - her team decided not to use earphones. "We came up with a solution that worked," she said.