Virtual Reality in Dentistry

Even a routine dental procedure can be a scary process sometimes. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get that cavity filled while relaxing on the beach? Thanks to Dr. Bryan Laskin’s pioneering use of VR technology, this could soon be a (virtual) reality.

Meet Dr. Laskin

Blinding lights, jarring noises, and masked figures looming overhead — even routine dental procedures can be uncomfortable and stressful. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get that cavity filled at the beach? At least one dentist thinks so. Dr. Bryan Laskin seeks to revolutionize dental treatment through the use of virtual reality as an innovative and safe way to manage both pain and stress. Soon, you could strap on a pair of VR goggles and find yourself lounging on the beach in New Zealand, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves and watching seabirds gliding in lazy circles, and virtually forget that you’re getting dental work done.

How did your interest in virtual reality develop?

Dr. Bryan Laskin: I was at an AR (augmented reality) / VR conference, as I have been involved with software development for several years. At the conference, someone was describing research that proves the effectiveness of VR in reducing pain and anxiety in healthcare. I instantly had a vision of the first version of OperaVR. I ran up to the lecturer after he was done, described my vision and we were off.

With which procedures do you offer VR as an option?

BL: VR is appropriate for all procedures in my dental office for anyone over the age of 13. VR is not contradicted in kids under 13 necessarily, but we do not recommend it, as there needs to be additional studies on VR usage prior to full eye development. Even routine procedures are more fun when being experienced virtually!

Does the use of VR change your experience when you’re treating patients?

BL: In our experience, it makes treatment much more relaxed for patients and far more efficient for operators. We do not need to worry about light in peoples’ eyes (let alone safety glasses).

Does this tactic make it easier to operate on patients compared with other methods? Is it less risky than putting someone under?

BL: It is certainly less risky. I equate OperaVR to nitrous oxide, as I think they have a lot of similarities. For example, not everyone will want a fully immersive experience, much like not everyone likes the sedative effects of nitrous oxide. Also, both nitrous oxide and OperaVR act to relieve pain by reducing anxiety, so traditional anesthetics will need to be used in many cases in addition to VR. In fact, we are calling OperaVR the “digital nitrous”.

How many of your patients ask for OperaVR during treatments? Is it getting popular?

BL: We are in the testing phase, so we are selective in who we are offering OperaVR to. Primarily we are looking for specific feedback in specific instances. We have, however, had people requesting it before we even had it available for patient use, as I was featured on the news prior to us using it on people other than staff. No one, so far, has declined using OperaVR in our office and it is certainly growing fast in popularity.

Are dentists that offer VR still few and far between?

BL: It is incredibly rare right now. We look to change that with OperaVR. OperaVR will be the first and only virtual experience specifically designed for dentists, but is also fully appropriate for similar case types (healthcare, tattoos, anxiety, etc).

How easy will it be for dentists to implement this system? Is there much for them to learn?

BL: We are making it so simple that all the offices need to know how to do is unlock the device and place it in the headset. Everything is automated from there. There are additional controls that can be used, but we wanted to make OperaVR easier to use than your phone.

What VR experiences do you currently offer?

BL: We currently have 5 unique VR experiences that are all what we are classifying “beautiful places around the world”. These range from the New Zealand beach surfers, the North Shore of Minnesota, a riverboat cruise to mountain scenes. We will be adding much more video content in the next few months, including offices having the ability to add their own content if they like.

Do you predict that VR will grow into other areas of healthcare as well?

BL: Absolutely. To say that VR in healthcare is just getting started is a gross understatement. The studies prove its efficacy, and our experience has shown that patients and healthcare providers both love the technology. We are looking to be the leader in healthcare VR.

If you could fill a cavity in the mouth of one famous person in history, who would it be, and what would you play for them on VR?

BL: Great question! The person would have to be Leonardo da Vinci, as I think he would appreciate the convergence of art, science and technology in modern dentistry, as well as the psychological benefits of VR. Plus, he is the architect of what is probably the most famous smile of all time (Mona Lisa)! I would play him one of our upcoming videos we are in the process of creating, where he would be able to go a gondola cruise of modern Venice.