Virtual reality goggles: helping patients with dental anxiety

We know that dental anxiety is one of the main reasons that patients don’t like visiting the dentist. In fact, lots of patients would rather be “just about anywhere” than in the dentist’s chair. That’s been the inspiration for our newest approach to managing dental fear at City Health Clinic. Imagine you could be “just about anywhere” AND sit in a dentist’s chair in Edinburgh. Dr William Donovan explains why virtual reality (VR) could be the key to stress free appointments for patients with dental anxiety.

I see patients every week who admit to being nervous about coming in for their appointment. That’s why a big part of my role as a dentist is to help these patients to manage their fears. We have lots of strategies you can try – from practical advice to high tech solutions. In fact, we’ve developed a real specialism here at City Health Clinic in assisting our most nervous patients. I’m really excited about our latest strategy which harnesses new technology – virtual reality goggles.

For patients with dental fears, anxiety often stems from one bad incident which can stay with them for a lifetime. For these patients, it’s clear to me that the hardest part of visiting the dentist is making an appointment. One of my colleagues, Dr Ciara Sutherland, recently wrote a blog to help with exactly that. The second hardest thing is getting comfortable enough to stay in the dentist’s chair without feeling stressed out for the duration of your appointment. We’ve developed lots of ways to make you feel at ease and mostly this is all about developing trust and a genuine relationship with you. For people with extreme fears, our new VR technology also comes in to play.

My colleague Dr Stephanie Laing, our principle dentist, is pioneering the use of a Virtual Reality headset for patients to wear during appointments at City Health Clinic.

This is an innovative idea to help relax and reduce anxiety whilst undergoing treatment. It’s a brand new approach which is in its infancy within the dental world. Early studies have found that immersing yourself in a virtual world – whether that’s watching your favourites on Netflix, or even surrounding yourself with a calming interactive ocean view – can greatly reduce your sense of tension, stress and even your perception of pain(1). For me, that's both fascinating and exciting.

So far, uptake of the headset has been well received by patients here at City Health Clinic in central Edinburgh. Soon we’ll be offering this unique experience to all of our patients where it is suitable and beneficial. The days of staring at the dreaded ceiling will soon be over it seems. Now you really can be transported anywhere you like, all from the dentist’s chair.

If you'd like to see what a difference VR can make to your anxiety levels at the dentist, please get in touch to make an appointment. Our dental clinic is located on Earl Grey Street (Lothian Road) in Edinburgh city centre. Please make sure you request VR goggles when you call or get in touch.

  1. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, et al, The Soothing Sea: A Virtual Coastal Walk Can Reduce Experienced and Recollected Pain, Environment and Behavior, Issue published: July 1, 2018, Volume: 50 issue: 6, page(s): 599-625