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Researchers are Using an App to Help Patients Face Their Dental Fears

by adminjay


Research shows that 30 percent of people fear going to the dentist, including more than 20 percent who have had an appointment recently, according to an NYU study. A new app created by researchers at NYU College of Dentistry and Penn School of Dental Medicine shows promise in treating this distress using the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness—all from the comfort and privacy of home. In their pilot study, half of participants reported that they were no longer fearful. The use of virtual reality is also being studied as a way to further immerse patients in simulated appointments

“These technologies empower patients via strategies to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behavior at their next dental appointment,” says Richard Heyman, a clinical psychologist, co-director of the NYU Dentistry Family Translational Research Group, and a principal investigator of the dental fear research.

The challenge confronting the research team was not how to treat dental fear, but how to package the proven approaches in a way that is both accessible to patients and works for dentists.

They developed a smartphone app, Dental FearLess, which uses the “active ingredients” of CBT in an engaging series of activities, all done virtually. In the app, participants are led through educational materials on fear and anxiety, including strategies and coping skills to use at the dentist, from breathwork and muscle relaxation to effective communication and challenging unhelpful thoughts. Participants also watch videos showing interactions between dentists and patients and then practice the strategies they’ve learned. Finally, they create an action plan for managing fear at their next appointment.

“The program aims to change what you do, what you think, and what you feel at the dentist,” says Jasara Hogan, a research scientist at NYU Dentistry’s Family Translational Research Group and a dental fear researcher.

Read the full article from NYU.

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