Technology & Science

Dental drill noise blocked by device

People who feel anxious about trips to the dentist in part because of the jackhammer-like noise of drilling in their teeth may find relief in a new headphone device.

Listen to your own music instead of the drill's whine

People who feel anxious about trips to the dentist in part because of the jackhammer-like noise of drilling in their teeth may find relief in a new headphone device.

The screech of the drill drives some to avoid trips to the dentist.

Now British researchers have invented a prototype device that works like noise-cancelling headphones but is designed to block the high-pitched sound of the drill and encourage patients to seek oral care.

Patients would simply unplug the regular headphones that come with their MP3 player or cellphone, plug in the new headphones, and then listen to their own music while blocking out the unpleasant sound of the drill and suction equipment.

"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," said Prof. Brian Millar at King's College London Dental Institute.

The device was Millar's brainchild, inspired by the efforts of carmaker Lotus. The company developed a patented system to remove road noise while allowing a driver to hear emergency sirens.

In the dental office, the patient would still be able to hear the dentist and other members of the dental team speaking to them but other unwanted sounds are filtered out by the device, which contains a microphone and a chip that analyzes the incoming sound waves.

Electronic filters lock onto sound waves and remove them as the drill is used. 

After a decade of engineering work to design, build and evaluate the dental system, the British team is now looking for investors to help commercialize the product. It is not yet on the market.