Study reveals anaesthetic injections main stressor in teen dental patients

dental anxiety teenagers
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It’s known that children are very stressed by anaesthetics injected into the mouth before tooth extraction, in connection with orthodontic treatment. Now researchers in Sweden have tested a technique to monitor stress levels in 14 to 16-year-olds during dental treatment and found that teenagers are similarly stressed.

The results of the pilot study by a team at the University of Gothenburg were presented during the recent congress of the European Academy of Pediatric Dentistry in Gothenburg

“Child and adolescent patients aren’t always able or confident enough to convey negative experiences during dental treatment,” study leader Dr Larisa Krekmanova said. 

“Parallel to this, we know that a significant number of them find dental exams and invasive treatment stressful, whether this is due to fear or pain.

“We want to uncover this silent stress, a type of stress that’s difficult to detect and can remain hidden. This research aims to increase practitioners’ sensitivity and raise patient voices.”

The study included 34 patients, aged 14-16 years, who were to undergo either a regular dental exam or invasive treatment involving anaesthetic injections and the extraction of healthy molars, often over several appointments, in conjunction with orthodontic treatment.

During treatment, the participants were fitted with a device on one of their hands to collect data on hand movements and hand sweating, measured via the electrical properties of the skin, known as electrodermal activity or galvanic skin response.

The results show that the participants who underwent regular dental exams exhibited scattered stress spikes while those who underwent invasive treatment were significantly more stressed for longer periods, all following a clear pattern.

Some stress was already recorded when the patient had the dentist’s fingers in their mouth and was examined with a mirror. However, these stress levels skyrocketed when anaesthesia was administered—to some extent when anaesthetic gel was applied, but especially when local anaesthetic was injected. This is when hand movements and sweating peaked. During the actual tooth extraction, the hand movements lessened somewhat while the heavy sweating continued.

“Children and adolescents are most afraid of invasive interventions, and we now have a picture of the stress caused by these various interventions,” Dr Krekmanovan said.

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