New approach to dental visits may ease kids' fears

February 20, 2009

For many children, a trip to the doctor or dentist is a stressful experience. The sensory environment (i.e., the sounds, smells, and lights associated with the clinical setting) can cause a child's anxiety levels to rise. This is especially true in children with developmental disabilities who may have difficulty understanding the unfamiliar clinical environment. A new study soon to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics explores the relationship between the sensory environment and anxiety levels in children.

Dr. Michele Shapiro of the Issie Shapiro Educational Center and colleagues from Hebrew University in Israel studied the effects of the sensory environment on a child's anxiety levels during two separate routine cleaning visits to the dentist. The researchers observed 35 children between the ages of 6-11 years, 16 of whom were developmentally disabled. They measured the anxiety levels of the children during each visit using a behavior checklist and monitored each child's electro-dermal activity, an objective measure of arousal.

The first trip included the typical sensory experiences of a dental office, including fluorescent lighting and the use of an overhead dental lamp. During the second trip, however, the researchers created a sensory adapted environment that modified the experience of the children. No overhead lighting was used, a slow moving repetitive color lamp was added, and the dental hygienist wore a special LED headlamp that directed the light into the child's mouth. The children listened to soothing music and were wrapped in a heavy vest that created a "hugging" effect. The dental chair itself was also modified to produce a vibration.

Dr. Shapiro and her colleagues found that anxiety levels decreased in all children when the sensory adapted environment was used. The duration of anxious behavior dropped significantly, from an average of 3.69 minutes to 1.48 minutes in typical children. The decreased anxiety levels were even more notable in children with developmental disability, with averages dropping from 23.44 minutes to 9.04 minutes. Dr. Shapiro and her colleagues are hopeful that this new method may have a potential use in other medical settings as well. As Dr. Shapiro notes, "This new approach may even replace sedatives and other invasive procedures in the future."

More information: The study, reported in "Influence of Adapted Environment on the Anxiety of Medically Treated Children with Developmental Disability" by Michele Shapiro, OT, Harold D. Sgan-Cohen, DMD, MPH, Shula Parush, OT, PhD, and Raphael N. Melmed, MD, FRCP, appears in The Journal of Pediatrics, DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2008.10.017, published by Elsevier.

Source: Elsevier Health Sciences

Explore further: Virtual reality alleviates pain, anxiety for pediatric patients

Related Stories

Virtual reality alleviates pain, anxiety for pediatric patients

September 8, 2017
As patients at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford undergo routine medical procedures, they are being whisked away to swim under the sea, zap flying cheeseburgers in outer space, catch basketballs using their heads ...

Back-to-school anxiety? Here are seven simple solutions

September 1, 2017
School start-up is just around the corner. For most children and adolescents, September is an exciting time of year, with its promise of new friends, new clothes, new teachers and new things to learn and experience.

Children's personalities linked to their chemical response to stress

July 8, 2011
Is your kid a "dove" – cautious and submissive when confronting new environments, or perhaps you have a "hawk" – bold and assertive in unfamiliar settings?

Parenting significantly affects development of children with Fragile X syndrome

February 15, 2017
University of Kansas researchers have found that certain specific parenting practices are significantly associated with the development of communication and language skills in children with Fragile X syndrome. These same ...

Infants born prematurely: Two studies identify routes to better outcomes

April 15, 2015
Eleven percent of all births worldwide are preterm, or occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and preterm-related causes of death account for a significant number of infant deaths, as well as long-term neurological disabilities. ...

Nap-deprived tots may be missing out on more than sleep: study

January 3, 2012
A new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder could be a wake-up call for parents of toddlers: Daytime naps for your kids may be more important than you think.

Recommended for you

Poor sleep could lead to heavier drinking in young adults, study finds

December 8, 2017
A shortened night of sleep may increase young adults' risk of heavier drinking, according to a new Yale study that assessed reciprocal variations in sleep and drinking over time in young adults.

Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn't work

December 8, 2017
Potato chips, frozen pizza, a fast food hamburger-these foods are popular in the American diet and saturated with sodium. Though eating too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, 90 percent of Americans eat ...

Observation care may save more than thought

December 8, 2017
In the world of health care spending policy, it usually works that as Medicare goes so goes private insurance on matters of managing the cost and quality of care.

Screen time before bed linked with less sleep, higher BMIs in kids

December 7, 2017
It may be tempting to let your kids stay up late playing games on their smartphones, but using digital devices before bed may contribute to sleep and nutrition problems in children, according to Penn State College of Medicine ...

Mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth, says research

December 7, 2017
For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors—yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

Teen girls 'bombarded and confused' by sexting requests: study

December 7, 2017
Adolescent women feel intense pressure to send sexual images to men, but they lack the tools to cope with their concerns and the potential consequences, according to new Northwestern University research published Wednesday, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.