Seaside ‘bottled’ for dentist’s chair

Patients who visited a virtual beach experienced less pain during dental procedures

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

Home » Seaside ‘bottled’ for dentist’s chair

Published: 23 June 2017

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

  

Imagine walking along a South Devon beach on a lovely day. The waves are lapping on the shore, rabbits are scurrying in the undergrowth and the bells of the local church are mingling with the calls of the seagulls. Then, as you turn to continue along the coast path feeling calm and relaxed you suddenly hear your dentist say, ‘Fine, all done, you can take the headset off now.’

For patients at one dental practice in Devon, England, such Virtual Reality encounters are resulting in demonstrably better experiences in the dentist’s chair.

Reduced pain and anxiety

In a study published in the journal Environment & Behaviour, a team of researchers at the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham worked with Torrington Dental Practice in Devon to find out whether experiences like these could improve the patient’s experience during routine dental procedures, such as fillings and tooth extractions.

Patients who had agreed to take part in the study were randomly allocated to one of three conditions: standard care (i.e. normal practice), a virtual walk around Wembury beach in Devon (using a headset and handheld controller) or a walk around an anonymous virtual reality city.

Results found that those who ‘walked’ around Wembury 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.

‘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. 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.’

Dr Sabine Pahl
Project’s coordinator at the University of Plymouth

The view from the chair

Natural environments are key

The authors of the research stress that the type of virtual reality environment the patient visits is important. Virtual Wembury was created by Professor Bob Stone and colleagues at the University of Birmingham, and the fact that only patients who visited Wembury, and not the virtual city, had better experiences than standard care is consistent with a growing body of work that shows that natural environments, and marine environments in particular, can help reduce stress and anxiety.

‘We have done a lot of work recently which suggests that people are happiest and most relaxed when they are at the seaside. 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 MATHEW WHITE
Co-author of the study, from the University of Exeter

The team is now hoping to investigate whether Virtual Wembury can help patients in other medical contexts and whether certain additions to the virtual environment could make the experience even better.

Click here to read the study.

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