Dental Anxiety Linked to Worse Oral Health Outcomes in Children

Frightened little girl experiences dental anxiety at dentist office, covers mouth with hands

Dental anxiety in children can oftentimes be an issue. Levels of dental anxiety in pediatric patients vary from very mild to severe fear, with around 10% of children and young people experiencing severe dental anxiety. Children with higher levels of fear tend to have an increased prevalence of untreated decay and worse quality of life than less anxious children.

One possible reason for this is that children who are fearful of dental treatment are more likely to avoid or delay dental care due to their fear and therefore this group of patients will typically experience more oral pain and functional problems. Children report using a variety of strategies to persuade parents into cancelling dental appointments, which include claiming to be unwell and downplaying their dental problem.

Learn more with our dental CE courses: Working with Fearful and Anxious Dental Patients and Dental Management for Pediatric Patients with Complex Needs.

British study links fear of dental treatment procedures to poor outcomes

One recent study revealed that it is specifically the fear of dental treatment procedures which are related to worse oral health-related quality of life in children. Anxiety and avoidance of dental treatment are factors associated with worse oral health outcomes in children as young as 5 years old.

Dental anxiety is very common; however, there is a lack of studies focusing on reducing children’s dental related anxiety. One such initiative, the guided self-help cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) resources ‘Your teeth, you are in control’, reduced anxiety in children attending paediatric dentistry clinics. This service evaluation aims to investigate whether such CBT resources reduce children’s dental anxiety when implemented in general dental practice. 

A convenience sample of children was given the resources by their dental practitioner. There was no control group. Children completed the Children’s Experiences of Dental Anxiety Measure (CEDAM) prior to using the resources and on completion of a course of dental treatment. 

Overall, 84 children were involved, with a mean age of 10.9 years. 48 of the children were female and 59 were living in the most deprived area of England. At baseline the mean CEDAM score was 20.3, and on receiving the resource and completing treatment the mean CEDAM score was 16.4, showing a significant reduction in anxiety. The items that improved the most were worry over having dental treatment and dental treatment being painful. 

Researchers admitted further evaluation would be necessary, ideally using a randomized controlled design.

Interested in learning more on this topic? We recommend the following dental CE courses: Working with Fearful and Anxious Dental Patients and Dental Management for Pediatric Patients with Complex Needs. To explore other topics, check out our growing library of CE courses for dental professionals.

This post was originally published on March 11, 2020 and updated on May 12, 2021.

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