Dental phobia linked to poor oral health

PEOPLE with dental phobia are more likely to have decayed or missing teeth, according to a new study.

Those who fear dental treatment also reported a poorer oral health-related quality of life than non-phobics.

The research conducted by King’s College London (KCL), and published in the British Dental Journal, analysed data from almost 11,000 participants of the Adult Dental Health Survey (2009), of whom 1,357 were identified as phobic. Of these, the vast majority were women (1,023) compared to just 344 men.

Dental phobia, the researchers explained, was when anxiety about vising the dentist was serious enough to have a marked impact on someone’s wellbeing.

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

The report argued that this poorer oral health could be caused by phobics avoiding regular dental visits 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.

Professor Tim Newton of the KCL Dental Institute said: “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.”

The study also explored how dental phobia can affect someone’s quality of life, impacting on their physiological, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing. The negative impact on people with dental phobia was found to be greater across these areas, even when levels of dental disease were controlled.

KCL’s Dr Ellie Heidari, lead author of the study, added: “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.

“Embarrassment at their poor teeth will prevent them from smiling and showing their teeth.”