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Distracting dental patients can improve experience

Dentists who have apprehensive patients may benefit from employing distraction tactics, a new study has suggested.

According to research from the University of Surrey, simple distractions such as talking to someone, watching a DVD or using stress balls can help patients relax during a procedure and reduce their pain.

Published in the European Journal of Pain, the study focused on nearly 400 patients who were split into four groups. The first listening to music during their surgery, while the second were able to watch a DVD. In the third group, a nurse was positioned to talk to the patient throughout the procedure, while the last participants were given two palm-sized stress balls and asked to squeeze them whenever they felt anxious.

The team found that the group who watched a DVD recorded 25 per cent less anxiety, while those who had a dedicated nurse showed a 30 per cent drop in anxiety levels. Participants who were given stress balls had 18 per cent less anxiety and 22 per cent less pain than those who received treatment as usual, while music had no effect on anxiety or pain.

In addition, during the surgery where they are awake, patients can sometimes experience burning sensations and unfamiliar smells, sounds and feelings. Patients have also reported overhearing conversations between the surgeon and nurse, containing upsetting details about the surgery. Although this type of procedure is safe and effective, patients often experience anxiety, as they are fully aware of everything that is happening.

“Undergoing conscious surgery can be a stressful experience for patients,” said study author Professor Jane Ogden from Surrey’s School of Psychology. “Finding ways of making them feel more comfortable is really important. The use of simple distraction techniques can significantly improve patient experience.

She added that the research offers a simple and inexpensive way to improve the experience of patients undergoing an unpleasant procedure, which can be used for a wide range of other operations carried out without a general anaesthetic.

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