VR Improves Dental Experiences, Research Shows
A growing number of dentists are finding that VR improves dental experiences for patients.
Virtual reality (VR) is technology that transports users into a “virtual world.” According to recent projections, its use in health care could grow into a $5+ billion industry by 2025.*
Some dentists are already on board with this trend. A growing number have found that using VR improves dental experiences for patients.
Dr. Bryan Laskin of Lake Minnetonka Dental in Minnesota is one. After listening to a virtual reality conference and studying its correlation to pain management, he’s been trying out VR.
“I like to think of virtual reality like digital nitrous,” Laskin said. “I think that VR in health care is going to take a different path than in the entertainment and gaming industry, and I think we are the right people to chart that path,” he added.
How VR Improves Dental Experiences
However, is there solid research to back this trend? It turns out, researchers have studied this use of VR for years. Many studies have found that using VR can help manage pain.
Recently, British researchers looked more closely at the issue of dental pain and VR. They wanted to see if using VR improves dental experiences. To find out, they used it during routine work such as getting a dental filling or tooth extraction.
In their study, patients were given standard care, took a VR “walk” along a beach, or “walked” through a virtual city. Those who strolled the beach (called Virtual Wembury) were “less anxious, experienced less pain, and had more positive recollections of their treatment a week later,” the researchers reported.
However, patients who took a VR “walk” around a virtual city did not find the same benefits.
Natural Environments and Stress Reduction
Why should imagining walking along a beach help block pain?
The authors stress that the type of VR environment is important. The fact that only patients who visited the beach had better experiences than standard care makes some sense. That’s because many studies have shown that natural environments can help reduce anxiety.
“…people are happiest and most relaxed when they are at the seaside,” co-author Dr Mathew White from the University of Exeter said. “So it seemed only natural to investigate whether we could ‘bottle’ this experience and use it to help people,” he added.
Proof that VR improves dental experiences
In short, there is clear proof of the positive effects of VR on dental experiences.
“Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners,” the lead author of the study, Dr Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, said.
“The level of positive feedback we got from patients visiting Virtual Wembury was fantastic,” added Melissa Auvray, the dentist involved in the research. “Of course, as dentists we do our very best to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible,” Auvray said, “but we are always on the look out for new ways to improve their experiences.”
Read next: Dental Anxiety? Sedation Dentistry Could Help
*Healthcare Augmented & Virtual Reality Market Worth $5.1 Billion By 2025, published May 2017, www.grandviewresearch.com.