dental anxietyPeople with dental phobia are more likely to have active caries or missing teeth, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by King’s College London and published in the British Dental Journal, explores the social and demographic correlates of oral health and oral health related quality of life of people with dental phobia compared to those without dental phobia.

The findings showed that people with dental phobia are more likely to have one or more decayed teeth, and missing teeth as well. In addition, the study showed that those with dental phobias reported that their oral health related quality of life is poor.

Dental fear

Anxiety about visiting the dentist is common and becomes a phobia when it has a marked impact on someone’s wellbeing. The study analysed the data set from the Adult Dental Health Survey (2009) to look into the common oral health conditions of those with dental phobia.

The data comprised 10,900 participants, of whom a total of 1,367 were identified as phobic. Of these, 344 were male and 1,023 were female.

The results showed that dental phobic people were more likely to have caries (tooth decay) in comparison to non-phobic respondents, and were likely to have one or more missing teeth.

The report argued that this could be because many people with dental phobia avoid seeing a dentist on a regular basis to address oral conditions that are preventable and chronic in nature. Once a visit has been made, the phobic patient might also prefer a short-term solution instead of a long-term care plan, such as extraction.

‘The correlation between those with missing teeth and dental phobia could be the result of treatment decisions made when the individual with dental phobia finally seeks treatment. Both patient and practitioners may favour extraction of the tooth rather than booking a number of appointments to complete a restoration,’ explains Professor Tim Newton from the King’s College London Dental Institute.

Quality of life

The study also explored how dental phobia can affect someone’s quality of life, impacting on their physiological, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing. People with dental phobia showed higher levels of impact, even when levels of dental disease were controlled.

‘Other research has shown that individuals with dental phobia express negative feelings such as sadness, tiredness, discouragement and general anxiety, less vitality and more exhaustion,’ explains King’s College London’s Dr Ellie Heidari, lead author of the study. ‘Embarrassment at their poor teeth will prevent them from smiling and showing their teeth’.

The findings also have implications for preventive services for those with dental phobia. By providing them with a detailed at home oral healthcare plan, dental practitioners could help reduce acute conditions with preventative care.

The team at the dental institute is now developing a preventive programme for those with dental phobia, focusing on what can be done to help them avoid acute conditions.