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Ask the Dentist: Virtual nature makes dental visits more pleasant, study finds

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says gaming technology could reduce some patients' anxiety

Seeing images of nature via virtual reality headsets can lead to a more positive recollection of visiting the dentist, researchers say

IF GOING to the dentist raises your blood pressure then applying a bit of tech may help. Researchers have found that if you view scenes of nature on a Virtual Reality headset then you will have a more relaxed experience at your dental appointment.

There's no shortage of research highlighting the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. All manner of studies highlight things like how access to the outdoors is better for our vision and improves our mental health.

But we don't have to actually go outside to reap the benefits, just looking at nature scenes is enough to lower our stress levels. A team of researchers at the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham worked with Torrington Dental Practice in Devon to find out how VR can be used to improve the dental patient's experience.

The results of the study found that those participants who ‘walked' around the beach were less anxious, experienced less pain, and had more positive recollections of their treatment a week later, than those in the standard care condition. These benefits were not found for those who walked around the virtual city.

“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," said Dr Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, lead author of the study.

"Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners."

So if you are one of the 22 per cent of the population who rank visiting the dentist number one for making you nervous, then you could try using this idea to help. If your dentist doesn't have a VR head set then there are many YouTube videos available showing forest, marine and beach scenes.

Arrive in good time for your appointment to reduce any stress from traveling to the dental practice or finding a parking space. Then relax and view the nature scenes when you are sitting in the waiting room to reduce any feelings of anxiety.

Try plugging in your headphones to gain the additional effect of the calming sounds, which have been shown to reduce your blood pressure, cortisol levels and heart rate. You could also keep your headphones in during the treatment to distract your mind from any dental sounds.

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