NEW YORK – Children may never enjoy a trip to the dentist, but a new study suggests that a soothing office environment might ease their anxiety.
In a study of 35 children having a routine dental cleaning, Israeli researchers found that outfitting the office with softer lighting and relaxing music appeared to calm the children's anxieties.
This was especially true of the 16 children with developmental disabilities, which often make children more sensitive to unfamiliar surroundings.
The findings highlight the importance of environment in children's comfort with medical procedures, according to Michele Shapiro, of the Issie Shapiro Educational Center in Raanana, Israel, and her colleagues.
A less stressful office environment could even take the place of the sedatives commonly given to help children relax, the researchers report in the Journal of Pediatrics.
For the study, Shapiro's team had each child receive two dental cleanings several months apart. One was performed in a standard dental office, and the other in the modified office setting that provided softer lights and soothing music. The children were also given a covering designed to create a "hugging" feeling as they had their teeth cleaned.
Overall, the study found, the children tended to be calmer in the modified office. They also showed less nervous system activation, as measured by electrodes placed on the children's skin.
The soothing environment was particularly relaxing to children with developmental disabilities, who were generally more anxious at each visit than the other children.
Many children go through unnecessary stress during visits to the doctor, Shapiro and her colleagues note — a fact that affects not only the children's well-being, but also the doctor's ability to properly examine them.
Simple changes to the office environment, the researchers write, might help solve that problem.