WAYZATA, Minn. – Hattie Martinson is lying back, paper apron on and a drill buzzing away at her tooth.
The Lake Minnetonka Dental employee is doubling as a test patient. She’s getting a routine filling, but she’s doing it on a beach in New Zealand.
“I’m on a beach and there’s some little boys and they’re running around in their wetsuits surfing away,” said Martinson.
She is one of the first patients to test virtual reality as a way to ease pain and anxiety in the dental chair.
Traditionally, there have only been a few ways to curb these problems: local anaesthetics, nitrous oxide, or general anaesthesia.
Dr. Bryan Laskin of Lake Minnetonka Dental is trying out the new option after listening to a virtual reality conference and studying its correlation to pain management.
“I like to think of virtual reality like digital nitrous,” said Laskin. “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.”
There is already abundant research showing how virtual reality can help in health care. One study shows it can enhance therapy for patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other studies claim virtual reality reduced the amount of pain burn victim’s experienced during treatments by up to 50 percent, and also reduced the amount of pain surgery patients felt compared to a control group.
“There’s all the academic research but sometimes someone’s face is all you need to see to understand that this has an impact and really impacts your brain,” said Chuck Olsen, CEO of Visual, a virtual reality app and 360 video company.
Laskin says the virtual reality headsets will be available for patients in about a month, and there is no added cost associated with it for the patient.