Over the years, dentists have tried every trick in the book to make dental injections less painful and stressful. Distraction (such listening to music or watching a video) and icing the injection area are two of the more common methods—along with just trying to say reassuring things such as, “You’ll barely feel it.”

Yeah, right.

But there is a useful technique out there for people who fear the dental needle. It’s a simple device that’s meant to take the ouch out of dental injections. And its value has been authenticated in a recently published Tufts University study of young dental patients, age 10 to 17. (It’s used on adults, too.) The device, called DentalVibe, delivers very fast vibrations to an injection site for a few seconds before and during the injection. With so many gimmicks out there that may or may not work, the Tufts study sought to scientifically prove whether DentalVibe was all that it claimed to be.

All of the participants in the study were having dental work that required numbing both sides of their mouths for pain control. Each patient got the same topical application of benzocaine and the same local anesthetic, but the anesthetic was given using a different technique for each side of the mouth. One side was numbed using local anesthesia in the traditional way—via a 30-gauge extra-short needle jabbed into the gum—while the DentalVibe device, turned off to only give patients the impression it was being used, was on the gum. Anesthesia was delivered to the gum on the other side really using DentalVibe. Immediately after each injection, the patients were asked to rate their pain on a scale of 1 (no pain) to 10 (the worst pain).

Results: A very large majority—83%—of these patients said that injections given when the DentalVibe was turned on were less painful than injections given while it was off. In fact, 25% of patients gave the no-vibration injection a pain rating of 5 or higher, while only 3% (one patient) gave DentalVibe such a rating. Plus, nearly half—47%—said they didn’t feel a thing when DentalVibe was used compared with only 8% who claimed that the no-vibration injection was completely painless.

The DentalVibe machine, invented by Steven G. Goldberg, DDS, a cosmetic dentist based in Boca Raton, Florida, is a handheld device about the size and shape of an electric toothbrush. Instead of bristles, it has two disposable prongs that are rested against the gum area that needs the anesthesia. The prongs deliver vibration sensations while the anesthesia needle does its thing. It prevents pain signals from traveling to the brain by, basically, distracting sensory input of the needle prick.

DentalVibe is considered safe by the FDA, and dentists and patients across the country seem to be giving it high marks. Because the equipment cost to dentists is, at most, about $500, the additional cost on your dental bill will probably be about a dollar or so.

To me, this is an example of one of those straightforward, noninvasive and inexpensive innovations that just…makes me smile. If you want to catch some good vibrations from a dentist while he or she makes your smile all it can and should be, find out which dentists in your area are using this device.