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Virtual reality takes you to the beach during dental procedures

Virtual reality technology has unlimited potential for use in more and more fields of industry. A recent study evaluates the use of virtual reality in the healthcare field. Researchers set out to determine whether the use of VR can help patients have better experiences at the dentist office.

The research team worked with Torrington Dental Practice in Devon for the study. Participants were visiting the office for routine dental work such as tooth extractions and fillings.

The volunteers were randomly assigned either normal care or one of two simulated environments – a virtual stroll on Wembury beach in Devon or a virtual tour of an unidentified city.

Click here to watch what the patients saw.

The patients were asked to recall their experiences a week later. Those who saw the beach through their headsets displayed less anxiety and less pain than those patients who received normal care, and also had more positive memories of their treatment. The patients who took a virtual walk through the city, however, did not have improved levels of comfort.

Dr Sabine Pahl was the project’s coordinator at the University of Plymouth.

The fact that “walking around the virtual city did not improve outcomes shows that merely distracting the patients isn’t enough, the environment for a patient’s visit needs to be welcoming and relaxing,” explained Dr. Pahl. “It would be interesting to apply this approach to other contexts in which people cannot easily access real nature such as the workplace or other healthcare situations.”

The discovery that certain simulated environments are more beneficial than others is consistent with previous research which revealed aquatic settings and other natural environments diminish stress and anxiety.

Dr. Mathew White of the University of Exeter is a co-author of the study.  

“We have done a lot of work recently which suggests that people are happiest and most relaxed when they are at the seaside,” said Dr. White. “So it seemed only natural to investigate whether we could ‘bottle’ this experience and use it to help people in potentially stressful healthcare contexts.”

Dr. Melissa Auvray is the dentist who participated in the study.

“The level of positive feedback we got from patients visiting Virtual Wembury was fantastic,” said Dr. Auvray. “Of course, as dentists we do our very best to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible but we are always on the lookout for new ways to improve their experiences.”

The study is published today in the journal Environment & Behaviour.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Source: University of Plymouth

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