Virtual reality has started making headlines as the next big home entertainment system and digital marketing trend, but its first practical use so far is in the widely-dreaded offices of dentists and doctors. Although the exact reasons why are not yet clear, research has shown that virtual reality can help in reducing pain and anxiety.
The prevailing theory around virtual reality’s calming effects is connected to the technology’s power to distract users. No matter what problems someone has or what is about to happen to them in their actual reality, the virtual one gives them an easy escape into a different emotional setting. While about two-thirds of parents worry that their children spend too much time with technology, this escape into a virtual world may shape up to be a good one.
Dental patients can be transported to the tranquil settings of nature scenes while they’re getting work done by using technology from OperaVR. The startup behind OperaVR is Operability, and its founder is a dentist himself. According to the dentist-turned-founder, Bryan Laskin, the interactive VR headset is used by anxious patients as well as those who simply want to avoid the awkwardness of having a dentist just inches from their face.
While the responsibility of calming patients usually falls to DANB CDA-certified dental assistants, 95% of whom view dental assisting as a career rather than a job, that duty could be handed over to virtual reality instead. According to Laskin, his dental practice even uses virtual reality more than nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.
Pediatric doctors are also turning to virtual reality rather than using more traditional methods of calming patients. Dr. Evelyn Chan created Smileyscope, a virtual reality adventure designed to distract children from the anxiety of more painful procedures like getting shots.
About 60% of children have a fear of needles and from this small fear, children have developed anxiety into adulthood and even aichmophobia, the fear of all sharp objects. With Smileyscope, children can be distracted from their fears by going on an underwater adventure complete with searching for sea creatures, blowing bubbles, and feeding fish.
The technology of Smileyscope is fairly simple, consisting of just a smartphone and a virtual reality headset made by Google. The system is currently in 20 hospitals across the U.S. and Australia, and Laskin’s virtual reality program has reached 100 dental practices across the United States.