Dentists know that distracting the patient works best for everyone. British researchers wanted to find out if virtual reality can ease patient pain and anxiety, so they tested 79 people who needed a cavity filled or a tooth pulled.
Patients were divided into three groups. One group watched a VR coastal scene, another group viewed a VR city, and the third group saw no virtual reality at all. The people that had watched the ocean VR experienced “significantly less pain” than the other two groups, demonstrating VR’s therapeutic potential for stressful situations. Follow-ups revealed that the coastal VR patients experienced less “recalled pain” memories afterwards.
Calming nature scenes
The patients viewing the city VR did not experience less pain and stress than the ones with no VR, so it seems to only work when using calming scenes. Psychologists believed VR could merely be distracting patients from drilling and poking, but this was not the case. The researchers explained that the findings are in line with literature, showing that even indirect contact with nature can influence physical and mental well-being.
They note that in earlier studies, VR has proven to decrease patient dependence on pain medication. The research supports the previous positive findings of VR distraction in acute pain management, and suggests that VR nature can be used in combination with traditional medicine. The next suggested step would be to vary the content of natural environments, for instance by using a forest instead of a coastal scene. This may shed further light on how VR reduces pain.