Hands up, who doesn't get just the teensiest bit nervous about going to the dentist? Not many of you, I'll wager. Dentophobia – fear of dentists and dental care – is one of the most common phobias, and it's the high-pitched whine of the dentist's drill that causes most anxiety. If this applies to you, take heart. You may soon be able to relax (or at least tune out the sound of the drill) and listen to music on your own MP3 player, connected to a noise-canceling device developed by Kings College London in conjunction with Brunel University and London South Bank University.
The prototype device works in a similar way to noise-canceling headphones. It contains a microphone and a chip that analyzes the incoming sound wave, and produces an inverted wave that cancels out unwanted noise. Designed to deal with the very high pitch of the dental drill, it also uses adaptive filtering, where electronic filters lock onto sound waves and remove them, even if the amplitude and frequency change as the drill is being used.
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Patients would plug the device into their MP3 player or mobile phone, and then plug their headphones into the device, allowing them to listen to Mozart, Metallica or M.I.A. instead of the drill and suction equipment. They would still be able to converse with the dentist or dental nurse.
Professor Brian Millar of King’s College London’s Dental Institute was inspired by carmaker Lotus’ efforts to develop a system that removed unpleasant road noise, while still allowing drivers to hear emergency sirens. He has spent 10 years working with research engineers at Brunel University and London South Bank University to bring it to its current prototype stage.
Kings College is now looking for an investor to help take the device to market.
"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," said 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."
Now, if only someone could invent a device to help us deal with fear of injections at the dentist.