Many people around the world can relate to the fear and anxiety of going to the dentist. Whether it is due to a negative past experience, or an exaggerated perception of pain and discomfort, it is common for people who experience dental fear to avoid going to the dentist for years.

The ubiquity and prevalence of dental fear and anxiety among many people have sparked the interest of researchers, thus making it a subject that has been investigated in numerous studies. The following are 5 interesting findings from studies that revolve around this particular subject.

1. Dental anxiety has been found to have genetic roots

Determinants as well as the different aspects of dental fear—behavioural, cognitive and physiological manifestations of distress and the causes that lead to it—have been investigated in a number of studies. One study, however, specifically aimed to provide additional evidence for the heritability of dental fear.

The study, published by the Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, was conducted among participants who are related biologically. Findings showed that genetic influences are indeed important in the aetiology of dental fear and anxiety.

2. Natural red hair colour is associated with increased dental care-related anxiety

Hair colour may not be the first thing that most people would link dental fear and anxiety to, but a study that was published in the Journal of American Dental Association found that there is in fact a significant relation between the two. Researchers came to a conclusion that the MC1R gene, which was present in most red-haired participants in the study, may play a role in anxiety.

65 of 67 red-haired participants and 20 of 77 dark-haired participants in the study had MC1R gene variants. Dental care-related anxiety, and fear of dental pain was significantly greater among red-haired participants of both sexes. The participants in the study also did not have diagnosable psychological disorders or high levels of psychological symptoms.

3. Children feel more positive about dentists than adults

How does dental fear and anxiety work in different ages? In a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Dentistry, researchers found that 64% of the children who had visited the dentist reported to like their visit. A more recent study published by the ISRN Dentistry, focused on the assessment of the feelings and attitudes of children towards their dentist showed consistent findings. ISRN’s study also found that approximately 71.5% of the children who had visited dentists enjoyed their visit.

On the other hand, results from the Adult Dental Health Survey conducted by the NHS showed that just over half of adults who had ever been to a dentist had low/no dental anxiety, while 36 percent indicated moderate dental anxiety, and 12 percent had extreme dental anxiety. Based on the survey, items that elicited anxiety most often in adults were associated with receiving dental treatment—having their tooth drilled and having a local anaesthetic injection.

4. Relation between dentist outfit and dental anxiety among children of different age groups

A study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research found that children who belong to the younger age group (below 8 years) preferred their dentist to wear regular outfit, while those from the middle and older age group (above 8 years) preferred their dentist to don the white coat and surgical scrubs.

This is consistent with findings from a different study by AlSarheed conducted among children aged between 9-12 years, which found that more children preferred their dentist to wear the white coat as opposed to a coloured coat. Formal attire is also more preferred by children compared to casual attire. Such findings can be significant to improve the success of dental treatment among children, as their fear may hinder the success of dental procedures.

5. Relaxation therapy has significant effect in decreasing dental fear and anxiety

Determining the roots of dental fear is important, but so is knowing the proper strategies to manage and reduce it. One study was conducted to analyze the result of the efficacy of two therapy methods used in reducing dental fear and anxiety: relaxation and systematic desensitization. Findings showed that relaxation therapy can significantly decrease anxiety level.

Using the relaxation technique, patients were given the explanation that dental fear and anxiety will decrease when they have enough capability to remain relaxed during dental interventions. These patients were also trained in relation with progressive muscle relaxation techniques and encouraged to practice it for 10-15 minutes on a daily basis.

Taking into account these findings, different kinds of strategies may have a different impact individually. A dentist’s understanding of the patient’s perspective can go a long way in determining the right technique in managing their fear. MIMS

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