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Is Virtual Reality the Future of Dentistry?

For some patients with dental anxiety, they’d rather be anywhere but sitting in a dentist’s chair. But while a lounge chair on a warm, sandy beach sounds like a lovely alternative to fillings and root canals, avoiding much-needed dental work isn’t doing your mouth any favors. So, what if you could visit the dentist and relax on the beach at the same time? No, we’re not talking about poolside dentistry. We’re talking about virtual reality, or more specifically, implementing the use of virtual reality equipment during dental procedures. While the idea may seem far-fetched, it's already yielding some big results around the globe.


"I first heard about using virtual reality in dentistry in an article about a practice in Devon, England," laughed Dr. Michele Simpson, a dentist in Wilmington, North Carolina. "And I thought, my patients would absolutely love that!"

The practice she is referring to is Torrington Dental Practice, a dental clinic in Devon, England that paired with researchers at the Universities of Plymouth, Birmingham and Exeter to develop a virtual reality program designed to help patients relax while undergoing dental procedures. When fitted with virtual reality devices during their procedure, patients reported being more comfortable and relaxed when exposed to calming scenarios on their devices.

"Beach or water settings seemed to have the best outcomes," said Simpson, "while other realities like cities or more chaotic environments didn’t yield positive results."

Researchers concluded that in order for virtual reality to be beneficial for the purpose of relaxation, patients must experience a relaxing environment, not just a different environment.

"The most striking thing they noticed was that patients didn’t simply want to be distracted away from their current environment, they truly needed to be transported somewhere calming," said Simpson. 

So, does Simpson plan on outfitting her practice with some virtual reality goggles anytime soon?

"I think it’s too soon to invest in that kind of technology for most practices," she said. "But I’m sure that before long, programs designed specifically for dental patients will be available in the United States, and many dentists will be eager to put them to the test in their own practices."

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