Odors have long been known to be capable of altering the emotional state of humans. Physiological and psychological effects of essential oils have been acknowledged in folk medicine and aromatherapy for a long time. Citrus and lavender fragrances have been particularly attributed with mood enhancing properties by aromatherapists.
Recently a study, published in the September issue of the journal Physiology & Behavior, was undertaken to investigate the impact of the essential oils of orange and lavender on anxiety, mood, alertness and calmness in dental patients. A second goal of the study was to investigate whether stimuli from other modalities, music for example, have the same effect.
The researchers tested this hypothesis in a controlled experimental study taking advantage of the highly emotional situation in a dentist's waiting room. While waiting for their dental procedures patients were stimulated either with ambient odor of orange or ambient odor of lavender. These conditions were compared to a music condition and a control condition (no odor, no music). It was found that patients who were exposed to orange odor or lavender odor had a lower level of state anxiety, a more positive mood, and a higher level of calmness compared to the patients in the control condition.
The results of this study confirmed the previous notion of sedative properties of the natural essential oil of orange in a clinical setting and extended it to the essential oil of lavender. The study further found that exposure to music in a dentist's waiting room has an intermediate effect.
In conclusion, the study supports the traditional use of essential oils in altering emotional states. It also demonstrated that essential oils, used as ambient odors, might be helpful to reduce anxiety and improve mood in dental offices. The researchers suggest further studies to investigate effects of odorant mixtures, as well as those of single odor molecules and effects of natural odor mixtures compared to synthetic products.