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App for iPad Aims to Make Dental Visits Less Scary for Patients with Anxiety, Autism

Young woman with dentist in a dental surgery. Healthcare, medicineA new app for iPads aims to lessen anxiety in patients who are visiting a dentist.

The app, The Stories at the Dentist communication system, allows those who have learning or communication disabilities to prepare for their visits. The app tells these patients what to expect and how to become more involved in their care and treatment.

Another advantage of the app is that it may reduce the need for patients to be sedated. Many patients who have odontophobia — one of the most common phobias, meaning the fear of the dentist — opt to be sedated through use of pills, nitrous oxide or other sedatives.

Other patients with anxiety may abandon their treatment if they become too nervous, so the app’s creators want to increase the amount of completed procedures for these patients, as well.

The app was created by researchers at Dundee and St. Andrews Universities, along with NHS Tayside and Capability Scotland. Patients and community dental staff across the Tayside area also collaborated with the creators in the app’s design and evaluation.

Gillian Elliot, senior dental officer with the community dental service in Tayside, said of the app, “This app is already transforming patients’ experiences in the dental setting. By improving communication, and therefore understanding, patients can become fully involved in decisions about their care. We have found that the app reduces anxiety as patients are fully prepared about what to expect.”

The app is especially useful for patients who have conditions such as autism, so they can know ahead of time what to expect when they visit the dentist. For dentists, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends a “tell-show-do” approach, clear communication and few interruptions to procedures when working with autistic patients.

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