Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to reduce dental fear among children

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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) can be an effective behavior management strategy for dental anxiety in kids (Photo: Canva)
Dr. Isha Rao, Dental Tribune South Asia

By Dr. Isha Rao, Dental Tribune South Asia

Mon. 10. January 2022

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Dental anxiety is a global issue and children are often scared of visiting a dentist. The UK has found ‘very high’ levels of dental anxiety in kids. A national survey in the UK has found that around 14% of 12-year-olds and 10% of 15-year-olds have dental anxiety. It is critical to manage dental anxiety to increase the acceptance of dental treatment by kids, and to remove the barrier to successful treatment outcome.

A new research study in the European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry suggests that Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) can reduce dental anxiety in children.

Dental anxiety refers to the anxiety associated with visiting the dentist for treatment procedures or preventive care.  According to Agras et al., it is the fifth most common cause of anxiety. Many factors contribute to dental anxiety, including age, gender, number of siblings, previous dental experience, and so on.

Treating anxious dental patients is stressful for the clinician due to reduced cooperation,  which necessitates more treatment time and resources, resulting in an unpleasant experience for both the patient and the dentist.

AAT is effective in reducing overall anxiety. A 5-15 minute session with a pet animal can significantly increase oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine while decreasing cortisol levels. AAT has been used in many rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and schools to reduce stress or alleviate specific conditions.

The study:

The researchers chose one hundred and two children between the ages of five and ten at random and divided them into two groups. Dental treatment was performed in Group A in the presence of a therapy dog. In Group B, they provided dental treatment in a standard dental setting.

The researchers assessed the anxiety levels by measuring the pulse rate and using an anxiety rating scale. Parents were asked to rate their child's interaction with therapy dogs before leaving the clinic.

According to the findings, the anxiety reduction was ‘highly significant' in the presence of a therapy animal. The researchers concluded that animal-assisted therapy is an effective behavior management strategy in dental practice.

The study can be found here. Click here.

About the author:

Dr. Isha Rao (BDS) graduated from MGM Dental College, Navi Mumbai in 2020. She currently works as an assistant editor (Public Health) at Dental Tribune South Asia and covers various areas in public health. She is interested in pursuing research in the domain of public health policy and financing.

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