A systematic review of the use of virtual reality or dental smartphone applications as interventions for management of paediatric dental anxiety

Andrea Cunningham, Orlagh McPolin, Richard Fallis, Catherine Coyle, Paul Best, Gerry McKenna*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Virtual reality (VR) has been used successfully in medicine both as a distraction tool during procedures, and as an acclimatisation tool to prepare for a procedure or experience. It has not yet become widely used in dentistry, but could theoretically have a role in exposure-based acclimatisation for dental experiences.

To examine the use of VR or bespoke dental smartphone applications pre- or perioperatively in dentistry, to decrease anxiety in a paediatric population attending for dental examination or treatment, compared with children/adolescents who receive no intervention, or more conventional behavioural management techniques.

Searches were made of eight electronic databases: the Cochrane Oral Health Group’s Trials Register, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE(PubMed), EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Scopus and Web of Science. Further searches reference cross‐checks were performed to identify studies that were not discovered online.

Systematic reviews and randomised control trials have demonstrated the successful use of VR to both distract patients perioperatively during medical procedures, and also preoperatively to prepare them for these interventions. However, to date, VR has only been applied to dentistry in a very limited number of studies. Three studies using virtual reality in a dental setting demonstrated decreased pain and anxiety compared with no intervention. All three of these studies were carried out in the perioperative period. A fourth study used a bespoke dental app and imagery to prepare patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for dental treatment, finding statistically significant decreases in both the number of appointments and number of attempts required to carry out a procedure.

VR is a promising tool which to date has been under-utilised in dentistry. High quality, clinical studies are required to assess the use of preoperative VR and smartphone applications to prepare patients for dental examination and procedures under local or general anaesthetic.
Original languageEnglish
Article number244
Pages (from-to)244
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Oral Health
Issue number1
Early online date07 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 07 May 2021


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