Want to help your anxious patients not dread visiting you? Send ’em to the woods, to France, to the beach.

QUICK QUIZ: Which of these travel excursions would you most like to experience? A) sightseeing in France; b) downtime at the beach; c) exploring a lush forest; d) getting a root canal. Wait, what?

“My office is called Experience Dentistry for a reason,”says Scranton, Pennsylvania’s Dr. Jeanette Linskey-Sanders. “We’re always looking for ways to give patients a great dental experience. Researching ways to accommodate different needs, we came across the VR Digital Nitrous System”—a virtual-reality headset created by OperaDDS and designed to relieve anxiety in the chair.

“The system presents patients with calming, soothing imagery that can be used with headphones for an immersive experience,” says Dr. Linskey-Sanders, 41, who has been in practice for 15 years and started using the VR system in 2022. “It’s designed to be used with patients in the chair. It’s easy to work around.”

The need for soothing scenery in the chair, you will not be surprised to learn, is acute. Dr. Linskey-Sanders cites research that found roughly a quarter of needed dental work on patients who have been to an appointment goes untreated because of fear and anxiety. “A significant percentage of the population won’t even step into a dentist’s office because of it.”

Digital Nitrous, she says, can be a good alternative to sedation. “One study using functional MRIs showed decreased activity in all five areas of the brain involved in pain response while using VR tech. It’s not merely a distraction—it’s actually decreasing pain.”

She cautions that it’s not for everyone. “Some patients don’t like the idea of wearing goggles, or the headset may increase anxiety if they can’t see or hear what’s going on.”

A single VR headset goes for around $2,000; OperaDDS offers bulk discounts for three- or 10-operatory bundles. The system features more than 60 experience settings: beaches, forests, “blooming nature,” even something called “Surreal”—an experience with abstract art and soothing smoke. “We can also have dental facts appear over the imagery for education, or a patient’s personal mantra to add another level of immersion.” Dr. Linskey-Sanders says the ones she likes most are Paris scenes. “If a patient has a favorite, we can have it ready for each visit to make sure they have the best ‘experience’ possible.”