VR The Next Level of Care in Dentistry
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VR The Next Level of Care in Dentistry

By Bryan Laskin, Chief Clinical Innovation Officer, Dental Care Alliance

We live in a country where 80% of adults have dental anxiety, 22% have put off dental care that they need due to anxiety, and less than half of adults see a dentist regularly. While many complain about the cost of care, it is anxiety in dentistry that remains the biggest barrier to care for the vast majority of dental patients. While there is almost always a lower-cost alternative to any dental plan, dental anxiety is largely ignored by dental professionals and has been swept under the proverbial rug for far too long.

The pervasiveness of this problem comes from several factors, including the history of dental treatment and the fact that dental teams become largely desensitized to dental anxiety. Anxiety is largely “the patient’s problem.” Think of it this way; if you show up for a root canal and the dentist is not comfortable doing the procedure, they will refer you to a specialist. If, however, you are crippled with anxiety (as many patients are), it doesn’t matter if the dentist uses nitrous oxide or other sedative techniques… you are usually stuck getting your care at the office. And the dentist probably views themself as “pain-free.”

"VR attacks one of the largest problems in dentistry that has plagued the profession and the patient equally since the dawn of time; dental anxiety"

The good news is that we, dentists, have some new options to provide pain-free dental care, primary of which is Virtual Reality Sedation. Therapeutic VR has been well studied for over a decade, with some of the breakthrough studies being focused on dental anxiety. While at first Therapeutic VR may make empirical sense as a distraction, the reality is that VR has a much more profound effect on eliminating dental anxiety, than merely a distractor.

Therapeutic VR has shown to remove pain and anxiety up to 60% in surgical patients. If you compare a patient with a pain stimulus in VR vs. one not in VR under a functional MRI, it is clear that the physiological effect of VR is similar to a light opioid. This is true drug-free sedation, not just a distraction. In most cases, dental therapeutic VR is as effective as nitrous oxide. VR, however, is easier for dental teams to use, faster, costs less for everyone, and does not require the use of mind-altering chemicals. Of course, other sedative techniques, such as nitrous oxide, oral sedation, or conscious sedation, can be layered on top of sedative VR, making Virtual Reality a true no-brainer for any dental team or patient.

Even patients without dental anxiety prefer using VR during their dental treatment. With VR, dental patients can be educated, entertained, and inspired in a way that was not previously possible. It is a rare person that would rather look up at someone in a mask, digging away in their mouths than being relaxing at the beach or touring exotic places around the globe.

Some technologies just make sense in some situations. Other technologies, applied to those situations are far more impactful than anticipated. There is no doubt that this is the case with Virtual Reality applied to dental visits. VR attacks one of the largest problems in dentistry that has plagued the profession and the patient equally since the dawn of time; dental anxiety. H

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