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Mace and Crown | May 20, 2018

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Conquering Dental Anxiety with Virtual Reality

Conquering Dental Anxiety with Virtual Reality

New ODU dental research study helps patients combat their fears of being seated in “the chair”

The Dental Hygiene Research center is conducting a study about individuals with dental anxieties and needs your help.

“We’re looking at dental anxiety to see if visual immersion therapy will help. It’s sort of like virtual reality. People would wear high tech glasses and they could be watching a movie or a relaxing scene, or some kind of visual to help them reduce their stress level while they’re getting their teeth cleaned,” dental hygiene professor Gayle McCombs said.

Since the study is being conducted on campus, it will be a lot more accessible for students to get a free dental cleaning if they can’t visit their primary dentist back home. But, the study is not just limited to ODU or even college students, anyone who fits the enrollment criteria is more than welcome to give it a try.

“Many people don’t like to go to the dentist, and if you’ve been in dentistry long enough, like I have, you hear at least once a day ‘I hate going to the dentist’.   Some people are absolutely terrified and some people are just a little apprehensive,” McCombs said of her patients. “We’re looking for an audience of anyone who’s apprehensive about going to the dentist.”

Many of the relaxation therapies out there right now are medication, according to Professor McCombs. So dentistry is trying to move away from that and give people something to help them relax that is pleasant to view and at the same time it takes their mind off of what their treatment.

“People hate the sound of the drill, so a lot of anxiety comes from the noise. People don’t like the looks of the instruments, they don’t want to see [them],” McCombs said. “Sometimes it might be a particular smell, a lot of it’s sight, smell, hearing. Sometimes people are just in pain. So there’s a lot of different factors that contribute to anxiety.”

Carmelo Padrino,class of 2010 graduate student and Venezuelan native, will finish conducting his clinical trial this semester. Once he finishes, he will write a thesis to be submitted to a professional journal. Dr. McCombs hopes to publish the study to help people understand how anxiety can be managed without medication.

Padrino worked in private practice for a year and came back for his graduate program.

“I started some research last summer and worked on my proposal in the fall. The few articles we found pretty much stated that dental anxiety can be reduced by the use of eyewear while patients are getting their teeth cleaned,” Padrino said. And so we said ‘that’s a good topic. Why don’t we study something that might [help] calm people down a little bit’?”

Some articles found that playing music could distract patients. Also lighting candles and certain smells help ease patients. And if the dental office doesn’t offer that kind of technology, Padrino said that getting a hygienist who can have a lot more conversations and small talk can calm the patients down a little bit. She said communication is key.

“As long as you tell the patient exactly what you’re going to be doing, then I think it will be less stressful.”

The research study’s target will be 30 subjects. So far, they have 13. And Padrino admitted that 12 out of 13 of them loved the procedure.

“They feel it’s a little more comfortable and that the appointment goes faster. When they’re distracted. They’re just focused on the movie, TV show, or whatever they’re watching and just relax,” Padrino said.

While the research’s target is only 30 subjects, Padrino said more individuals are encouraged and welcomed to participate.

“I think 30 will be a good sample to determine if this is going to work in private practice.”

Individuals interested in being part of the study and want to get a cleaning must age 18-65, generally healthy, have no severe dental cavities or periodontal disease, and be able to wear visualization headsets for 60 minutes or less.

To schedule a screening appointment, call 757-683-4719.

By. Brian Jerry

Senior Writer