Fear the Dentist? Noise-Canceling Device May Help

The high-pitch buzz of a dentist's drill is the prime cause of anxiety about the tooth checkup. Now researchers have created a device to cancel out the noise, which may help individuals keep up oral care without the panic.

So far the researchers have built and successfully tested a prototype, which works like noise-cancelling headphones, but is designed to deal with the very high pitch of a dental drill.

Patients would plug the device into their MP3 player or cell phone and then plug their own headphones into the device so they can listen to music during the appointment. The device would cancel out the sound of the drill and suction equipment while allowing other sounds, such as the dentist's voice, stream through.

Here's how it works: The sound suppressor contains a microphone and a chip that analyzes the incoming sound wave. Then it produces an inverted, or upside-down, wave to cancel out the unwanted noise. The device also relies on so-called "adaptive filtering" technology, where electronic filters latch onto certain sound waves and remove them.

The device was initially the brainchild of Brian Millar of King's College London's Dental Institute who was inspired initially by carmaker Lotus' efforts to develop a system that removed unpleasant road noise, while still allowing drivers to hear emergency sirens.

Now the team is looking for an investor to help bring the device to market. "Many people put off going to the dentist because of anxiety associated with the noise of the dentist's drill," Millar said in a statement. "But this device has the potential to make fear of the drill a thing of the past."  

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