For many, just the distant sound of a dental drill is enough to elicit a cold sweat, let alone having to endure it first hand during a filling. But now a new, noise-cancelling device developed by a London-based research team could help to take some of the pain out of the experience.
Inventor Brian Millar, from King's College Dental Institute, was initialy inspired to develop the new gadget by the efforts of the car-maker Lotus, who were working on a way to improve passenger comfort by using a sonic-cancellation system to remove unpleasant road noise yet leave passengers able to hear important sounds like emergency sirens or horns.
The new prototype device works similarly, cancelling out the high-frequency sounds of the dental drill whilst leaving the lower pitches - such as speech - untouched. Even better, it's designed to be compatible with the average personal MP3 player. So a patient could simply plug the device into the headphone socket of their player, then plug their own headphones into the device and then carry on listening to their own music - or even the Naked Scientists podcast - with the drill sounds being subtracted around them.
The noise cancelling effect works by listening selectively to the incoming sound of the drill and then producing a soundwave in the headphones which is the mirror image of the drill noise, suppressing the sound.
Brian Millar is now looking for external investment to take the invention to market. "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 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."
Part of the show Would you donate your body to science? from the 9th Jan 2011