Muting the dentist's drill eases the patient's fear

Much like noise-canceling or noise-reduction headphones in airliners, a new dental technology can block out the shrill sound from the dentist's instruments, which has been the prime cause of patient phobia and anxiety.

The device, containing a microphone and a chip, shuts out sound from the dental drill through soundwaves that produce interference. The prototype device, invented by clinicians from King's College London, uses an electronic filtering system that locks onto soundwaves and removes them.

Patients would only have to plug the device into their MP3 player or mobile phone and then plug its headphones into the device. They could listen to their own music while canceling out unwanted noise, although they would still be able to hear the dental team conversing or speaking to them.

The technology was initially authored by Professor Brian Millar at King's College London Dental Institute who worked with research engineers at Brunel University and London South Bank University for over a decade before designing the prototype. The professor was inspired by carmaker Lotus' efforts at developing a system that removed unpleasant road noise while still allowing drivers to hear emergency sirens.

The drilling sound of the dentist's handpieces has been a deterrent for most patients, postponing their trips to the dentist and critical oral care.

“Many people put off going to the dentist because of anxiety associated with the noise of the dentist's drill. But this device has the potential to make fear of the drill a thing of the past,” says its creator, Professor Millar. “The beauty of this gadget is that it would be fairly cost-effective for dentists to buy, and any patient with an MP3 player would be able to benefit from it, at no extra cost. What we need now is an investor to develop the product further, to enable us to bring this device to as many dental surgeries as possible, and help people whose fear of visiting the dentist stops them from seeking the oral healthcare they need.”

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