What's stressing kids out at the dentist

Scared Girl Pain Dental

Children undergoing invasive dental treatments often experience prolonged and intense stress primarily due to anesthetic injections, according to a pilot study conducted by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

A device that tracks hand movements and sweating may help practitioners monitor kids' stress levels, enabling them to break and take counteractive measures as needed, according to university news published on June 14.

"This research aim is to increase practitioners' sensitivity and raise patient voices," Larisa Krekmanova, a researcher in pediatric dentistry at the university's Sahlgrenska Academy, said in the story.

The study, presented at the Congress of the European Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, involved 34 patients ages 14 to 16 years old who were scheduled for either a regular dental exam (20 patients) or invasive treatment (14 patients) that included anesthetic injections and the extraction of healthy molars, often across multiple appointments, as part of orthodontic treatment. During the treatments, participants were fitted with a device on one hand to collect data on hand movements and sweating, measured via the skin's electrical properties, according to the story.

Compared to those undergoing regular dental exams who exhibited occasional stress spikes, patients undergoing invasive treatments experienced significantly higher and more prolonged stress levels, according to the study.

Although some stress was observed when patients had the dentist's fingers in their mouths and while being examined with a mirror, stress levels surged when anesthesia was administered. This was particularly true during the injection of local anesthetic, which caused peaks in hand movements and sweating. During the tooth extractions, hand movements decreased somewhat, but intense sweating persisted, according to the results.

"Moving forward, the ability to use the device in real time would help practitioners to monitor stress levels, and to perhaps pause for remedial measures before continuing treatment," Claudia Jaldin, a dentist at the public dental service clinic in Gothenburg, said in the story.

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