Patients who are afraid of the dentist might soon be able to escape to an alternate universe during check-ups and leave their fears behind.
According to Science Daily, a recent experiment found that dental patients who are immersed in virtual reality experience less stress and even pain while undergoing dental work.
Researchers from Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham University enlisted 80 participants who needed to have a cavity filled or a tooth pulled. The participants were split into three groups, two of which wore VR headsets during their procedures while the third acted as the control group and did not wear headsets. Pain medication and/or sedation was administered to any patient who required it.
Which Universe to Choose?
Of the two groups that wore headsets, one was transported to a virtual beach during treatment while the other explored a virtual cityscape.
Patients completed a survey immediately after treatment and a second survey one week later.
Those who visited a virtual beach reported less stress and pain than both of the remaining groups. When asked about their procedure a week later, the former group also had a far more positive recollection of the treatment than the other two, making them more likely to return to the dentist. Patients who visited the city apparently reported the same amount of stress and pain as the control group, meaning this particular virtual environment had no effect on their experience.
Virtual Reality in Health Care is on the rise
Lead author Dr. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra said: “The use of virtual reality in health care settings is on the rise but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences. Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners.”
The experience of the group that was transported to a virtual city shows that simply distracting the patient with any sort of virtual environment might not necessarily make a dental procedure any more relaxing. It seems that in order for the VR environment to inhibit pain or stress, the environment must be particularly calm and soothing, like a beach.
The success of the virtual beach, however, is not exactly a surprise considering previous research has shown that the average person is most relaxed in this type of environment.
A 2015 study found that even spending time in an aquarium can not only improve mood but reduce heart rate and blood pressure as well.
Beaches are relaxing
The real surprise from the recent study was the stark difference between the experiences of the two VR groups. Dr. Melissa Auvray, a dentist involved in the study, said that the feedback the researchers received from the patients who visited a virtual beach was “fantastic,” which suggests that they might have been so absorbed in the virtual environment that they actually enjoyed their dental procedures.
Adding to the findings’ significance is the current popularity of sedation dentistry.
“The benefit of the VR is that with sedation patients need to have someone with them to help them home afterwards, and the dentist and dental nurse need further training,” Dr. Auvray noted. “However, with the VR, any dentist with a dental degree could learn to use the VR kit, and it could benefit patients.”
The research team plans to determine whether a virtual beach could achieve the same results for patients undergoing more serious procedures. Such studies will likely involve improved versions of the beach environment that were designed to make medical treatment as relaxing as humanly possible.
For some people, dental appointments are routine, but for others, dental anxiety makes the process a serious ordeal. Fortunately, modern dentistry is an advanced science that typically results in positive outcomes. Here are some of the fears and misconceptions people face when planning dental visits as well as a few tricks that make your worries easier to overcome.
What Are Dental Anxieties and Phobias?
People’s fears of going to the dentist can be grouped into two general categories. Dental anxiety is known as a normal level of concern about dental visits, and it can be related to simple issues like fear of pain, prior bad experiences, mistrust of injections or worries about the side effects of anesthetic procedures.
Dental phobias occur when such anxieties increase to levels that make it extremely difficult for people to function. Unfortunately, phobias may prevent individuals from taking care of their teeth until it’s absolutely necessary.
Are Dental Anxieties Unrealistic?
Many of these worries reflect valid concerns. For instance, injections are typically associated with some level of discomfort, and anesthetics commonly come with side effects, such as dizziness or lasting numbness. When these fears become so intense that they affect other areas of your life, however, it’s important to get them under control.
Fight Fear with Understanding
One way to combat dental fears is to empower yourself with knowledge. Patients have the right to know as much as possible about why they’re undergoing different procedures and what each entails. Learning more about their options can usually help people come to terms with the necessities of oral care. Educating yourself is also an important part of building a more trusting relationship with your dentist, which can really ease your fears.
Dealing with Specific Myths
It’s easy to work yourself up about anything you’re worried about. The following dental misconceptions, however, commonly seem far worse than they really are:
All Dental Procedures Hurt
It would be dishonest to say that no dental treatments cause pain. What you have to remember, however, is that the vast majority don’t and that the pain associated with letting your problems worsen is generally far more severe. For instance, nobody likes having cavities excavated, but if you just ignore them, you’ll require extensive dental work and possibly way more painful root canals. Getting treated as early as possible may not always be comfortable, but it definitely feels better than the alternatives.
I Feel Like I’m Not in Control During Dental Visits
Some individuals feel embarrassed or helpless when they let hygienists and dental professionals into their personal space. While this is somewhat natural, it’s important to remember that you’re always in control.
Even though you likely lack the dental knowledge that your doctor or nurse possesses, you can really increase your comfort with what they’re doing by learning about it in advance. Most dental offices are absolutely happy to share literature detailing what goes on during different procedures so that you can keep yourself informed even though you won’t be able to watch what’s happening to your teeth in real time.
I Lack Sufficient Dental Insurance
When properly managed, dental care doesn’t have to be expensive. There are a huge array of dental insurance plans that make it much easier for people to care for themselves and their families without straining their finances, and once again, staying on the ball helps reduce care costs. The price tags associated with in-depth procedures and long-overdue corrective work are much higher than what you’ll pay for simple preventive care, so confronting your need for dental work head-on can save you massive amounts of stress down the line.
Making Trips to the Dentist Easier
Remember, dental care doesn’t have to be a pain. Even if you suffer from severe dental anxiety, you’ll find that managing your misconceptions and becoming more informed makes it much easier to make responsible decisions about your teeth.
To learn more about dental insurance and the common issues people have with planning dental visits, check out our other blogs. Or if we missed a common misconception that affects someone you know, share it in the comments below.
I was born with dental anxiety, and I’ve had it all my life. Growing up, trips to the dentist involved being poked with sharp instruments while the dentist looked for cavities. A cavity meant submitting to the drill and enduring the ever-present possibility of great pain. I could hear the squeal of that drill in the waiting room, and I was certain that I also heard screams of dismay from whoever was unlucky enough to be sitting in the chair.
The Effect Of Dental Anxiety On Dental Hygiene
You would think that my fear of dentists and drills would have motivated me to take good care of my pearly whites. Just the opposite was true. My dental hygiene was minimal. A quick brushing in the morning was usually all I could manage, and never mind the flossing and mouthwash. I somehow developed the belief that the less I focused on what was going on inside my mouth, the less likely I would be to get cavities. This seemed to work. I had very few cavities growing up, and I ate plenty of candy.Gingivitis: An Early Dental Warning System
As a teenager, I started to get bleeding gums whenever I brushed. The dentist said I had gingivitis. That’s inflammation of the gums, and it’s caused by a bacterial infection. The dentist said if I didn’t floss and brush three times every day, the gingivitis would turn into periodontal disease which is the major cause of tooth loss. I was also told to get a cleaning and exam every six months. Rather than motivating me to take better care of my mouth, I simply continued to brush once a day, usually in the morning. Unlike periodontal disease, gingivitis is not really a big problem. Even with inflamed gums, I could still convince myself that everything was fine and that brushing in the morning was enough.
Periodontal Disease: Stuff Gets Serious
By the time I was a young adult, my gums began to protest. I was told by my dentist that I had periodontal disease. If I didn’t get gum surgery, I would lose almost every tooth within a few years! I started getting abscesses that involved some serious pain. But the dental anxiety that had so far kept me away from the dentist continued to convince me that I was better off on my own. Besides, I had no dental insurance, and the cost of gum surgery was considerable. Instead, I got antibiotics to treat the abscesses, and for the time being, it worked out quite well.
Falling Out And Moving Around
Although I had started out with an awesome smile, the periodontal disease started doing strange things in my mouth. My teeth became loose and were shifting their positions. My gums receded, the roots were exposed, and the roots were extremely sensitive to almost everything. I was getting abscesses more frequently, and the antibiotics were no longer able to kill off the infections. One day after dinner, I noticed that one of my smaller molars had vanished. Apparently, I had swallowed it. Almost every tooth was now crooked, and the gums were pulling even farther away from each tooth. I had abscesses constantly, there was significant bone loss in my jaw, and additional teeth began to fall out. I finally realized that even though I didn’t have dental insurance, I would have to fix the problem whether I had insurance or not.
The Scary Final Fix
I was told that because the periodontal disease was so advanced, every loose and crooked tooth would have to be extracted. Upper and lower partial dentures would be needed to fill in the gaps and create an even smile. The treatment involved almost ten extractions and being fitted for two partial dentures. The cost would be thousands of dollars, and the procedures were not covered by my insurance. Although I was still afraid of the dentist, I now had only two options. I could continue to ignore the problem, or I could get the job done. I made an appointment and lived in a state of terror for the week before the procedure. After looking for numerous last minute insurance plans, none would cover the treatment within the needed time frame, so I would have to pay for it myself, and it wasn’t going to be cheap.
A Happy Ending
Although I dreaded the procedure and wasn’t sure whether partial dentures would look natural, I was surprised by how well things turned out. My dentist put me under anesthesia, and the next thing I knew, I had teeth that were white, even and beautiful. I have learned from this experience. I no longer see the dentist a as predator armed with drills and pliers. I get regular cleanings, I brush and floss twice a day, I rinse with mouthwash and I visit my dentist for regular exams and cleanings. I now have a great dental plan to cover these visits, without having to pay for each visit myself. My mouth is now healthy. My only regret is that it took me so long to see that cooperating with the dentist would give me a better outcome than avoiding the dentist.