Cartoons help calm kids’ nerves at the dentist

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Watching cartoons through video glasses during dental treatment could help lessen the anxiety and distress of young patients as well as reduce their disruptive behaviour, according to a randomised controlled trial published in Acta Odontologia Scandinavica.

Apprehension about visiting the dentist and then during the dental treatment itself is common in school-age children. Estimates suggest that as many as one in five are afraid of dentists, and that those with dental phobias experience more pain and are more troublesome during treatment.

Although studies have shown that audiovisual distraction such as playing video games and watching television can be successful in minimising distress and the perception of pain during short invasive medical procedures, the issue of whether such distraction is beneficial during dental procedures is still hotly debated. Research to date has produced conflicting results.

In this study, 56 ‘uncooperative’ children aged seven to nine years attending a dental clinic at the Royal College of Dentistry, King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, were randomly assigned to receive either audiovisual distraction (watching their favourite cartoons using the eyeglass system Merlin i-theatre™) or no distraction (control group).

The children then underwent three separate treatment visits lasting a maximum of 30 minutes involving an oral examination, injection with local anaesthetic and tooth restoration. During each visit, the researchers measured the children’s anxiety levels and cooperative behavior using an anxiety and behavior scale, and monitored their vital signs, blood pressure, and pulse. The children were also asked to rate their own anxiety and pain during the procedures.

The researchers found that during treatment, the children in the distraction group exhibited significantly less anxiety and showed more cooperation than those in the control group, particularly when receiving the local anaesthetic injection. In addition, the average pulse rate of children in the control group was significantly higher at this time compared with children in the distraction group. However, the kids themselves did not report differences in treatment-related pain and anxiety.

In conclusion, audiovisual distraction seems to be a useful technique to calm children. However, the researchers caution that because of the limited number of participants, further larger studies are needed in general clinical settings to confirm the value of this audiovisual distraction tool.

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