B-Calm and the iPod

Music is one of the easiest distraction techniques to use. As far back as 1995, dental phobia manuals mentioned that

“With portable tape and CD players so inexpensive, we encourage many patients to bring CDs or tapes of music, books, or comedy they find engaging. Let the patient control the volume. That way he can use it to drown out noises.” (Treating Fearful Dental Patients, Second Edition)

Anyone remember the Walkman??

Nowadays of course we use iPods and other mp3 players to achieve the same effect!

For some tips on how to use the iPod as a distraction device, you can visit our drill phobia page.

But some people have taken the concept even further and developed devices which are specifically designed to drown out dental handpiece noise. Meet B-Calm!


B-Calm is basically an easy-to-clean mp3-type player with replaceable tips for the earphones (so you don’t get the previous patient’s earwax into your ears!). It comes pre-loaded with mp3 tracks such as “tropical beach”, “summer forest”, “spring rain”, and for children, farm animals mixed with a forest soundscape. They are similar to the types of white noise tracks that you can get for falling asleep, but the frequencies of the sounds are specially selected to blend out handpiece noises.

From B-Calm’s website:

“b-Calm™ is a personal audio system specially designed to relieve dental patients of noise from a variety of handpieces as well as promote a calm and relaxed mind.

b-Calm™ utilizes in-the-ear earphones to execute the AudioSedation technology; a proprietary blend of noise mitigating signals optimized within the calming sounds of nature. By using the b-Calm™ system, not only is the severity of the drill noise mitigated, but the patient is provided with a calming and relaxed audio environment. The b-Calm™ system puts the patient back in control of their dental experience, all in the palm of their hand.”

This is what it looks like:

So why would you need a special unit for this? Wouldn’t any mp3 player do? Well, probably… but with all those silly health and safety regulations nowadays, an easy-to-sterilise unit is handy. All that hygiene comes at a price though ($495 to be exact :shock:).

There’s always DIY solutions… (any sound engineers on here??)

The Counterargument

Using an mp3 player is an isolating experience. You are in your own world where your imagination can run wild and you can’t hear any of your dentist’s soothing words. For this reason, you may prefer it if the radio is playing in the background, or if your dentist hooks up your iPod to a speaker system and plays your music. This way, everyone in the room can participate in it and you will feel less isolated!

The Future

In January 2011, a team of researchers at King’s College London, led by Professor Brian Millar, announced that they have invented a prototype device that works like noise-cancelling headphones but is designed to block the high frequency noises of the handpiece. Ordinary noise-cancelling headphones are not good at blocking high frequency noises – they are better for blocking low frequencies.

The device works by simply plugging special headphones into your own mp3 player and listening to your own music while blocking out the sound of the handpiece and suction equipment (the spit hoover). This device would be quite cheap for dentists to buy, and the team is now looking for investors to help commercialise the product (it is not yet on the market).

The good thing about this device is that you would still be able to hear your dentist and other members of the dental team, but that unwanted sounds will be filtered out by the device. You don’t even need to put on music for it to work. The device uses a microphone and a chip to analyse incoming soundwaves, and electronic filters which lock onto sound waves and remove them as the handpiece is used.