February 24, 2009

Easing Fears at the Dentist’s Office

Simple changes to the environment can dramatically improve a child's visit to the dentist's office, a new study found.

Turning off the overhead fluorescent lights, playing soothing music and using LED headlamps instead of an overhead dental lamp during routine cleanings dramatically lowered kids' anxiety levels, particularly for those with developmental disabilities.

Researchers measured anxiety levels using a behavior checklist and monitored each child's electro-dermal activity, an objective measure of arousal, when 35 children between the ages of six and eleven made two routine trips to the dentist's office.

The first visit was a typical sensory experience of a dentist office, including the fluorescent lights and overhead dental lamps. But for the second visit, those lights were replaced with a slow-moving repetitive color lamp and the dental hygienist's special LED headlamp, and the children listened to soothing music and were wrapped in a heavy vest that created a "hugging" effect. The dental chair was also modified to produce a vibration.

Researchers found that anxiety levels decreased for all children during the second visit, and the duration of anxious behavior dropped significantly. For typical children, the duration dropped from an average of 3.69 minutes to 1.48 and averages dropped from 23.44 minutes to 9.04 minutes for the developmentally disabled children.

"This new approach may even replace sedatives and other invasive procedures in the future," researcher Michele Shapiro of the Issie Shapiro Educational Center in Israel was quoted as saying.

SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics, 2009


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