Device aims to beat fear of the dentist's drill

Posted by Kate Taylor

Now, please no jokes about British teeth - things may be about to change. A group of UK scientists reckon they've found a way of persuading more people to the dentist, by counteracting the common phobia of the dreaded drill.

It works in a similar way to noise-cancelling headphones, but is designed to deal with the very high pitch of the drill. Patients would simply unplug their headphones, plug the device into their MP3 player or mobile phone, and then plug the headphones into the device.

They can then listen to their own music while completely blocking out the unpleasant sound of the drill and suction equipment. The patient can still hear the dentist speaking, but other unwanted sounds are filtered out.

"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 Professor Brian Millar of King's College London.

"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."

Containing a microphone and a chip that analyses the incoming sound wave, the device produces an inverted wave to cancel out unwanted noise. It also uses adaptive filtering, whereby electronic filters lock onto sound waves and remove them, even if the amplitude and frequency change as the drill is being used.

Millar hopes to find a partner to help bring the device to market. "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," he says.