Entertaining “blinders” give dental patients something to focus on other than what’s happening in their mouths.

The dentist’s office has to rank at the top among places people would rather not visit.

Waiting rooms are quiet. The only noise is that of a high-speed drill down the hall. And the stillness of the waiting room is broken only by the name of the next person called. Nobody wants to be next.

When Dr. Matt Palomaki opened his new office at Rossview Dental on Warfield Drive in early January, he had more to offer than just the latest equipment and a reception area with a small coffee bar. He also offered a new treatment method to help calm anxious patients.

The new method doesn’t yet have an official name. For the present, Palomaki and his health care colleague, Dr. Brandon Birckhead, an internal medicine resident at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, are calling it “virtual reality dentistry” (VRD).

Birckhead has a great deal of experience using virtual reality, and not just in games.

“In talking with Matt, I told him that virtual reality has been around for many years, but it still hasn’t been used that much in healthcare, and certainly not in dentistry,” Birckhead said. “And to me, it is a no-brainer in both medicine and dentistry.

“This method of delivering dental care to patients involves putting on a headset and snapping a video in place,” he said. “The headset shuts out all light and external noise but not the voice of the dentist and the assistant. The patient can carry on a conversation in a normal tone with the dentist if they choose. Virtual reality helps distract the patient from pain and anxiety.”

According to Palomaki, “One way of describing this is that it is similar to using blinders on horses. Horses wearing blinders only see what is directly in front of them. A patient using a headset only sees what is directly in front of them in the video they choose to watch.

“Something worth mentioning is that a patient wearing a headset will not be able to see dental instruments, drills and syringes. With everything muted, the dentist can then perform specific procedures on patients who are distracted, less nervous, and much more compliant.”

VRD may sound like something that is easy to implement. It is not. It is more than just putting on a headset and watching videos. The cost of equipment and ancillary items ranges from $5,000 to $8,000. There is no extra charge for the service at Rossview Dental.

The patient must remain still at all times while receiving treatment, so watching sporting events would not be a good idea, and watching action films, war films or science fiction is not recommended.

The ideal patient for VRD is someone having a lengthy procedure such as a root canal or implants. People having their teeth cleaned or having a minor filling put in are not good candidates.

For now, the videos available at Rossview Dental are television and movie programs. More videos will be acquired. Birckhead wants to see content-specific videos that feature dental topics and some that are interactive.

The development of VRD software is just getting started. Online streaming capabilities are being developed as well as other forms of media.

“Every patient we have used VRD on has really liked the experience,” Palomaki said. “It takes their minds off of what is being done. The children especially enjoy it, although with kids you have to keep reminding them to be still. They like to interact with what they are viewing.”

FOR MORE

Dr. Matt Palomaki, Rossview Dental, 392-G Warfield Blvd., 802-6875 or www.rossviewdental.com.

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