By Tony Edwards, DrBicuspid.com editor in chief

July 10, 2019 -- More children experience dental anxiety at age 9 than at age 7, according to a new study. Researchers also found that factors such as tooth pain, fear of drills, and parental dental fear contributed to this anxiety.

Researchers wanted to see if dental fear and anxiety in children changed and what factors influenced this anxiety. They followed 160 7-year-old children at a large, public service dental clinic in Sweden for two years and reported their findings in Dentistry Journal (July 1, 2019).

The children were examined and evaluated for decayed, extracted, and filled primary teeth. In Sweden, children are entitled to free biannual dental examinations and treatment from 3 to 19 years, according to the authors. The Children's Fear Survey Schedule-Dental Subscale was used to measure their dental fear. The parents filled out a questionnaire on parental dental fear, maternal education, their child's history of toothaches, and immigrant background.

Based on the fear survey results, 7% of the children had dental fear. Their mean survey score was 22.9 at age 7. Two years later when the survey was repeated, the percentage of children at age 9 with dental fear increased to 8%, and the mean score increased to 25.4.

What factors influenced the development of dental fear? Parental dental fear, the experience of toothaches, and report of painful dental treatment and caries development between 7 and 9 years of age were significantly related to its development, the researchers found. In addition, the fear of injections, drills, and choking scored the highest on the survey.

The authors noted several study limitations:

  • The study was not a population-based sample of children.
  • There is a risk that patients and parents with high levels of dental anxiety did not show up for examination or did not want to participate in the study.
  • The survey was filled out by parents, not the children.

They concluded that treating these patients means going beyond an oral examination.

"Dental treatment should focus beyond the prevention of dental caries, on the psychological aspects that the treatment can cause, thus, preventing painful and traumatic experiences," wrote study authors, led by Andreas Dahlander of the department of pediatric dentistry of the Public Dental Service in Södertälje, Sweden.


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