Can virtual nature improve patient experiences and memories of dental treatment? A study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, Sabine Pahl, Mathew P. White*, Jackie Andrade, Jon May, Robert J. Stone, Malcolm Bruce, Ian Mills, Melissa Auvray, Rhys Gabe, David R. Moles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Dental anxiety and anxiety-related avoidance of dental care create significant problems for patients and the dental profession. Distraction interventions are used in daily medical practice to help patients cope with unpleasant procedures. There is evidence that exposure to natural scenery is beneficial for patients and that the use of virtual reality (VR) distraction is more effective than other distraction interventions, such as watching television. The main aim of this randomized controlled trial is to determine whether the use of VR during dental treatment can improve the overall dental experience and recollections of treatment for patients, breaking the negative cycle of memories of anxiety leading to further anxiety, and avoidance of future dental appointments. Additionally, the aim is to test whether VR benefits dental patients with all levels of dental anxiety or whether it could be especially beneficial for patients suffering from higher levels of dental anxiety. The third aim is to test whether the content of the VR distraction can make a difference for its effectiveness by comparing two types of virtual environments, a natural environment and an urban environment.Methods/design: The effectiveness of VR distraction will be examined in patients 18 years or older who are scheduled to undergo dental treatment for fillings and/or extractions, with a maximum length of 30 minutes. Patients will be randomly allocated into one of three groups. The first group will be exposed to a VR of a natural environment. The second group will be exposed to a VR of an urban environment. A third group consists of patients who receive standard care (control group). Primary outcomes relate to patients' memories of the dental treatment one week after treatment: (a) remembered pain, (b) intrusive thoughts and (c) vividness of memories. Other measures of interest are the dental experience, the treatment experience and the VR experience.Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN41442806.

Original languageEnglish
Article number90
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2014


  • Dental anxiety
  • distraction
  • memories
  • virtual reality


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