Imagine walking along the scenic beaches of Hawaii on a perfect day. The waves gently lap the shore, seagulls are flying through the air, and the ringing of a buoy can just be heard in the distance. As you turn to continue your leisurely stroll along the beach feeling calm and relaxed you suddenly hear your McKinney, TX dentist say “All done, you can take off the headset now.” While this may sound the stuff of fantasy, a recent study found that such virtual reality encounters resulted in patients enjoying far better experiences while at the dentist’s office.
In a study recently published in the journal Environment & Behavior, researchers from the Universities of Birmingham, Exeter, and Plymouth partnered with a local dental practice to find out whether experiences like the one described above could improve the patient’s experience during routine dental procedures, such as tooth extractions and fillings.
A Better Dental Experience
As part of the study, patients agreed to be randomly assigned to one of three experiences: 1.) a standard appointment, 2.) a virtual walk along a nearby beach, 3.) a walk around an anonymous virtual reality city. Researchers discovered that those who “walked” around the beach were less anxious, experienced less pain, and spoke more positively about their treatment when asked a week later, when compared to those who experienced the other two scenarios.
“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. Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners,” stated researchers in the study.
Researchers stress that the type of virtual reality environment that patients visit is important. The virtual beach was created by researchers at the University of Birmingham, and the fact that only patients who visited the beach, and not the virtual city, had better visits is consistent with a growing body of evidence that shows natural environments, and marine environments in particular, can help to reduce anxiety and stress.
“We have done a lot of work recently which suggest 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,” noted the research team.
“That walking around the virtual city did not improve outcomes shows that merely distracting 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,” writes Dr. Sabine Pahl, project coordinator at the University of Plymouth.
The local dental practice involved with the study also reported experiencing far more positive patient feedback. Not only did the patients appreciate the ability to focus on something far more relaxing, they also expressed gratitude to the dental practice for offering such a thoughtful alternative.
Your Comfort is our Top Priority
Your McKinney, TX dentist always strives to offer patients a relaxing and comfortable experience. While virtual trips to the beach may not happen anytime soon, know that your comfort is always our top priority. As further advances are made in virtual reality simulators, know that our team will always stay on the lookout for the best ways to make our patients feel relaxed.