By Erin Richter
April 28, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dentists have discovered a new weapon for fighting plaque and promoting frequent office visits. And it’s more exciting than fluoride treatments. It’s virtual reality via i-glasses! by Virtual i/O. The specs made their professional debut in October at a convention of the American Dental Association. In its search for a niche market, Virtual i/O tapped into the 158,000 or so dentists nationwide, selling 2,000 to them since late January, the company says. ”I have given patients headphones,” says Dr. Ken Burnett of Bellevue, Wash., ”but you still don’t have anything to do with your eyes when you’re lying there in the chair. You can count ceiling tiles, but I don’t think music is distracting enough.” With a connection for VCR or TV viewing, as well as an add-on intra-oral camera that enables patients to view their procedures up close and personal, the glasses don’t just distract. ”Patients are laughing, they’re smiling,” says Dr. Julie LaMar of Fremont, Calif. ”I’ve had to stop a couple of times and ask if they’re okay, because I can’t tell if they’re responding to me or the movie.” Not everyone in a dentist’s chair wants to escape, however. ”Some people want to feel in control and want to be in the moment,” says Dr. George Hardy of Alexander City, Ala. ”They feel a little claustrophobic with (the glasses).” Others, he says, are initially intimidated by the technology. Eventually, though, the patients in Hardy’s rural practice end up viewing the glasses as user-friendly: ”They all ask for (them) again except for some older ladies-it messes up their hair.” His patients even get the chance to watch Hardy acting-in the 1992 horror film Troll II-while he’s working on their teeth. Positive reviews aside, the i-glasses!, which are often used for longer procedures involving crown and bridge work, have introduced one problem: ”It’s not in the way,” says Dr. Burnett, ”but if someone’s watching Jurassic Park, I always ask him to tell me when the lawyer is about to get snatched. It’s nice that people are distracted, but we don’t need them jumping.”