The Next Big Thing in Dental Care: Virtual Reality?

March 23, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Much of the talk surrounding virtual reality has been confined to the gaming and entertainment industries. However, VR has applications in the medical world, too. A Minnesota-based dentist is one of the early adopters of virtual reality, purchasing headsets for his patients. He hopes the tech will help ease patients’ pain and anxiety.

Doctors are already using virtual reality in other fields to help patients with pain management.

One dentist in Minnesota is testing a novel new approach to getting patients through their dental treatments — virtual reality. Bryan Laskin, D.D.S., of Lake Minnetonka Dental, is one of the first dentists to test VR headsets during treatment to ease patients’ pain and anxiety.

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In an interview with Kare11, Laskin said, “I like to think of virtual reality like digital nitrous. I think that VR in health care is going to take a different path than in the entertainment and gaming industry and I think we are the right people to chart that path.”

In the past, dentists have only had limited options when it comes to helping to keep anxious patients pain free — local anesthetics, nitrous oxide, or general anesthesia. As virtual technology continues to develop, that’s about to change.

VR is already under exploration in other medical applications and research studies, and the benefits of this kind of patient therapy are becoming clearer. In one study, individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the September 11 terrorist attacks saw measurable benefits from using VR during therapy sessions. Another study focused on pain management techniques for severe burn victims and found that using VR during wound care treatments helped to reduce the amount of pain patients experienced by as much as 50 percent. Also, VR was shown to help reduce the amount of pain post-surgery patients experienced compared to a control group.

As the technology behind VR is further developed, there are hopes that it will find its way into everyday clinical applications — both in dentistry and in medicine. In his own practice, Laskin plans to offer VR headsets during treatment to patients soon, and at no additional cost.

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