New device filters out harsh dental drill sounds | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 10.01.2011
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New device filters out harsh dental drill sounds

Three London universities collaborated to create a device similar to noise-cancelling headphones. The researchers say they now need investors to bring it to market.

Dentist working on a patient

Researchers want to make dentistry more comfortable

There's new hope for people who abhor the harsh noise of dental equipment.

On Monday, three London universities announced a new noise-cancelling devices to be used during dental procedures, eliminating that often stress-inducing squeal from drills and other tools.

"Many people put off going to the dentist because of anxiety associated with the noise of the dentist's drill," said Brian Millar, a professor of blended learning at King's College London, in a statement.

"But this device has the potential to make fear of the drill a thing of the past."

The device, which was produced by faculty from King's College London, Brunel University and London South Bank University, works along the same principle as noise-cancelling headphones on airplanes, except this device is designed specifically for that high-pitch frequency of dental drills.

When sound comes in through its microphone, the device produces an inverted wave to cancel out the unwanted noise. It also uses adaptive filtering to adjust on-the-fly if the amplitude or frequency of the pitches change.

"It reflects something I don't experience myself, which is that a lot of people are fearful of the dental drill noise," said Mark Atherton of Brunel University's School of Engineering and Design, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "People have a Pavlovian response of hearing that drill noise.

"We are confident that there will be a real demand," he added. "I think realistically it would be a question of months to produce a pre-production prototype, but you're probably looking at two years to get it into the market."

Dental patients can listen to their own music

A woman getting her teeth polished

Many people don't like to go to the dentist because of the high-pitched sounds

While some dental patients already bring their own music, this device would plug into a music player or mobile phone, and then patients could plug their own headphones into that - listening to their own music but having the unwanted sound filtered out.

"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," Millar added.

"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."

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: John Blau

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