Senses and Sensors: Biofeedback and Sensory-Based Interventions for Alleviating Dental Anxiety in Patients

Pearson, Sarah Ellen
Reay, Stephen
Sutton, Daniel
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Master of Design
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Auckland University of Technology

One in eight New Zealanders experiences dental anxiety, a phenomenon that persists despite great technological leaps in dentistry that have resulted in virtually painless dental treatment. "Sensors and Senses in Dentistry" used human-centred design and action research methodologies to unpack the complexities of dental anxiety and explore ways of improving patient experiences. The research explored how sensory modulation techniques and biofeedback systems could help alleviate dental anxiety in patients and contribute ways to reduce the cycle of fear, avoidance behaviour and dental problems. Interviews with patients and dentists helped to make visible the critical causes of anxiety in patients and identify potential solutions for helping patients manage their fear and anxiety. Patients shared they had trouble breathing due to their heightened anxiety. This worsened during invasive dental procedures when breathing became more restricted. Patients complained of feelings of drowning and associated severe panic from breathlessness. Furthermore, patients reported a need to feel listened to and be able to express their concerns to their dental practitioner without judgment. However, time was identified as a barrier for practitioners to properly understand their patient's needs and identify or measure their level of dental anxiety. As a result, the outcome of this research was a weighted therapy cushion, "A Cushion to Comfort", that combined the therapeutic approach of deep pressure touch (DPT), novel biosensing technology for monitoring anxiety levels, and responsive tactile breathing guidance to calm users. Altogether, the therapy cushion aims to help alleviate anxiety and restore patients' breathing. In addition, it is intended that the therapy cushion may provide practitioners with means of identifying their patient's anxiety pre-treatment and support them to provide more personalised care. The cushion utilised 3D-knitting technology to integrate electrocardiography (ECG) and textiles with a seamless and comforting look and feel.

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