Soon, nightmares of drill machines that visit you as your root canal procedure date nears, will be a thing of the past. If virtual reality therapy, already being used by city doctors in different forms, makes its way into mainstream surgical procedures, you might soon be shooting snowballs in a video game without even noticing that your bandages are being changed
A patient at World-Dent enjoys a movie on his glasses via the portable DVD player on his lap, even as Dr.Ferzin Turner takes a look at his teeth. Ever since World-Dent has introduced these glasses in their clinic, they have been very happy with the results. "Nervous adults use these to help them relax, while kids absolutely love it," says Dr. Turner.
At World-Dent, a pair of glasses that look suspiciously similar to the ones you wear for a screening of a 3D film catches your attention. Except that this futuristic pair is worn by fidgety patients during treatment, to distract them from pain and discomfort. So, while Dr.Ferzin Turner, who runs a combined practice here with her brother,Dr. Ashdin Turner and father, Dr.Porus Turner, fixes cavities and pulls out teeth, happy children sail through the pain thanks to these glasses that are connected to a portable DVD player and accompanied by headphones.
Dr. Turner's 8-year-old son, Zane, slides onto the recliner and slips on the funky-looking pair to demonstrate the use of his favourite gizmo. 'The glasses are connected to a portable DVD player, so you can watch any movie you like and ear-phones cut out the sound of the drill that people are frightened by,'her husband, Mr.DaneshVazifdar, who runs a dental technology laboratory across the hallway explains. Ferzin adds, 'As the glasses prevent you from seeing what's going on and cut off the procedure's sounds, we find they're very effective to help people relax. Often, patients completely forget that they're getting a dental treatment done.'
World-Dent's philosophy is in line with the research conducted by Hunter Hoffman, director, Virtual Reality Research Centre, University of Washington, and his colleagues. Called Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT), the idea of using video games to distract burn victims during medical procedures is now a reality at many places worldwide, including Randolph Hearst Burn Centre in New York, Copenhagen Burn Centre and Martini Ziekenhuis Groningen in Holland, among others.
Over email, Hoffman, who created SnowWorld, a virtual reality world, confirms, 'Directing a patient's attention onto something other than wound care can help reduce his or her suffering by as much as 35 to 50 per cent.' Think about that the next time you have to get an injection.
Hoffman has no doubts about the effectiveness of virtual reality therapy. Explaining his research on 'Immersive Virtual Reality Pain Distraction,' he says, 'Pain has a strong psychological component. This means that psychological interventions can be used, in addition to strong pain medications, to help reduce the pain levels experienced during wound care procedures.'
That explains why it would work with burn patients, who 'cannot take their eyes off their wounds during routine treatments,' says Hoffman. With no side effects and a one-time-cost, burn victims, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers and those whose lives are crippled by phobias may soon have access to these simple, even enjoyable, means of treatment. 'We have also conducted another pilot study to see how virtual reality distraction can reduce the anxiety of patients with claustrophobia,' Hoffman tells us.
Like him, Dr. Ferzin and Danesh are very enthusiastic about the research that has led to the recent use of VR therapy, because, as Dr. Ferzin says, 'Typically a dental procedure could take up to 45 minutes, so if a game occupies our patients' minds and makes their visits here more comfortable, we'd be all for trying it out.' 'We were in Minneapolis for an American Dental Association conference about three years ago when we first came across these glasses,' recalls Dr. Turner. They then purchased an additional pair (they cost under Rs. 20,000) to keep their kids, Jeanine and Zane occupied during their travels. Today, anxious children and more so, their overly anxious parents, flock to the centre for the promise of a less discomforting dental procedure.
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