IADR Honors Use of Virtual Reality to Treat Dental Anxiety and Phobia

Dentistry Today
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The International Association of Dental Research (IADR) has recognized a researcher at the Charles Sturt University School of Dentistry and Health Sciences with the 2020 Giddon Award for Distinguished Research in the Behavioral Sciences for his work in using virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) to treat dental phobia.

“The award is a great honor because it is only given to one outstanding research team every year,” said Kumar Raghav, BDS, MDS, a lecturer in clinical dentistry at the school and lead author. “We are very grateful that the six years of hard work our research team put into our study has been recognized at a global level by the International Association of Dental Research.” 

The study involved developing and testing a virtual reality technology-based intervention to treat dental anxiety and dental phobia.

“We conducted pioneering studies on adult dental patients with dental phobia to test the effectiveness of virtual reality exposure therapy. Dental phobia and high dental fear together form a significant barrier that prevents individuals from seeking regular dental care and adversely affects their quality of life,” Raghav said.

“Generally, patients with dental phobia undergo expensive dental treatment under general anesthesia or conscious sedation, which does not help them to learn to overcome their dental fears. Patients with high levels of dental fear are also a great source of professional stress among dentists as they are difficult to treat and require more chairside time for management,” said Raghav.  

During the study, participants were exposed to a range of common dental procedures and equipment including dental drills and syringes in a controlled virtual environment using head-mounted virtual reality goggles. 

“We tested the effectiveness of VRET using a range of studies as well as a randomized controlled trial in Malaysia. Through our research, we found VRET to be an effective treatment for dental phobia,” said Raghav. 

“This was particularly evident in our randomized controlled trial. At six months follow-up, we found 85% of the patients who underwent VRET were treated of their dental phobia, and 77% of them came to the dentist and sought regular dental care,” said Raghav.

“This is exciting for both Dr. Raghav and for Charles Sturt University. To have one of our academics internationally recognized by an association which has more than 10,000 industry members is an outstanding achievement,” said Francesco E. Marino, interim head of the School of Dentistry and Health Sciences.

“Dr. Raghav’s research is right at the forefront, and I am excited about what possibilities lie ahead for Charles Sturt University in this area,” said Marino.

The Giddon Award recognizes a single research investigation published or accepted for publication between January 1 and December 31, 2019, in social or cultural anthropology, education, psychology, sociology, and social work applied to dentistry.

The study, “Efficacy of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for the Treatment of Dental Phobia in Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” was published by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Its coauthors included Ad De Jongh and Arjen can Wijk of the University of Amsterdam and Ratika Kumar of the University of Newcastle.

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