Study to Explore VR Smoking Cessation Counseling During Routine Dental Cleanings

Dentistry Today


Belinda Borrelli, PhD, of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) has received a $493,873 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to explore how dentists can provide smoking cessation counseling.

Borrelli, professor of health policy and health services and director of the school’s Center for Behavioral Sciences Research, has been researching smoking cessation for 28 years and is an internationally recognized expert in the field, GSDM reports.

If the study meets certain milestones over its first year, Borelli will be eligible for an additional $4.1 million over the subsequent five years.

“I am so proud of Dr. Borrelli for receiving this prestigious grant,” said GSDM dean Jeffrey W. Hutter, DDS. “Her hard work and dedication to the field of smoking cessation has not gone unnoticed. Please join me in congratulating her on this well-deserved accomplishment.”

Borrelli’s pilot trial included 23 adult patients who were current smokers. During routine teeth cleanings, they wore a virtual reality headset that delivered two five-minute videos. One video targeted smokers who were not ready to quit, and the other targeted those who were ready.

Borrelli decided to use VR glasses because she thought they would provide a more immersive and private experience.

“There were high levels of satisfaction,” said Borrelli, who noted that participants were interviewed after watching the video and filling out questionnaires. 

“Both the quantitative and the qualitative data indicated that participants had high levels of satisfaction with both the content of the video and the whole experience of watching it through the glasses,” said Borrelli.

After 30 days, five of the 23 participants self-reported that they had quit smoking. Borrelli said that these numbers were high for smoking cessation interventions and for a pilot study in particular. Also, 14 participants attempted to quit for at least 24 hours.

“We weren’t expecting people to quit because it wasn’t an effectiveness study. It was a feasibility study [to see] if it was going to work,” said Borrelli.

Over the next year, Borrelli and her colleagues will expand the project. They will enroll 15 patients and interview the dental providers to make sure the intervention has the potential to be integrated into the school’s Patient Treatment Center.

The next phase of the study also will include a month-long interactive text message program designed to motivate patients to connect with smoking cessation resources including a smoking cessation telephone service, medicines to help them quit, and a clinic-based program.

“It’s trying to reach people who might not be motivated to quit, dispelling some of the myths about quitting and showing them that there are new and effective options out there in case they should decide to quit,” Borrelli said.

“Watching the video through VR glasses during their teeth cleaning is a way to distract them from the cleaning and also provide information at the same time,” Borrelli said. 

If Borrelli secures the additional funding, she and her colleagues will launch a randomized trial to see if the intervention outperforms a control group. Borrelli said that the project’s goal is simple—to get people to quit—but she also hopes to see if its methodology is successful.

The goal is to see “if it’s effective and disseminating to other clinics,” she said.

The pilot study, “Delivery of a Smoking Cessation Induction Intervention Via Virtual Reality Headset During a Dental Cleaning,” was published by Translational Behavioral Medicine.

Related Articles

19 Complete WVU’s Inaugural Tobacco Treatment Training Program

ADHA and CDC Launch Smoking Cessation Campaign

Listerine Takes Patient Education into Virtual Reality