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Water Street Health Services: New dentistry model will help victims of abuse

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Water Street Health Services is joining several partners to study a new model of dentistry that treats people who suffer from traumatic triggers, which impact dental health.

The study, called Restore, targets low-income individuals — those living below 200 percent of the poverty level — in Lancaster County who avoid dental care due to excessive fear and anxiety caused by past trauma, such as sexual and physical abuse.

Lancaster General Health, St. Joseph’s Health Ministries, Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster County’s dental community are partnering in the study.

Funding for Restore is provided to Water Street Health Services by a grant from the Lancaster County Community Foundation. The goal of Restore is to reduce traumatic triggers, sparked during dental exams, by providing a positive dental experience with the use of alternative relaxation techniques, the organization said in a news release.

The long-term goal is for low-income dental patients to receive quality dental care with minimal anxiety and remain compliant with future dental treatments, the release said. Additional goals are to increase access to dental services that specifically meet the needs of the population, increase oral health education, and reduce anxiety related to dental care.

Water Street seeks 150 patients to be part of the research model, which was designed and will be analyzed by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College.

Patients newly referred to Water Street Health Services will be screened, using Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale-Revised (DAS-R), to measure the level of dental anxiety. Patients who exhibit high levels of anxiety will be randomly assigned to one of three intervention strategies: environmental intervention, interpersonal intervention and relaxation techniques intervention.

Environmental intervention utilizes a spa-like environment equipped with special lighting, a blanket and neck pillow, a relaxation CD, lavender and plants to minimize the look and feel of traditional clinical environments. The dental chair faces the door and windows and the dental staff will also forgo wearing white coats.

Interpersonal intervention involves a pre-appointment meeting and tour, staff introductions and an explanation of the visit and treatment. The patient is also taught the “stop signal” that can be used at any point of the dental visit.

The relaxation intervention incorporates progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing and extra appointment time to allow patients to relax at the beginning of each visit.

The shift toward trauma-informed dentistry provides dentists with an alternative to sedation with the use of nitrous oxide, which can increase anxiety in patients who have suffered a severe trauma, the release said.

“As an organization that treats many people with addiction issues, it is important to develop a new model that truly works to heal individuals and not just mask the anxiety with medication,” said Colleen Elmer, executive director of Water Street. “Our goal is to determine which of the intervention models work best at eliminating the anxiety long-term and restoring patients to good mental health.”

Another anxiety assessment will be done after six months of treatment to measure improvement. The dentist and dental hygienist administering the treatment will be given self-assessments throughout the patient’s treatment to gather a fidelity-to-treatment score, which assesses how strictly the patient is adhering to the treatment plan, the release said.

At the completion of the study, Water Street will develop a training program to expand the model into the Lancaster community through private practice dentists.

Anyone interested in applying to take part in the Restore study should visit the website.

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