Dental Tribune International

Research finds presence of dental phobia not a barrier to treatment

By Dental Tribune UK
April 29, 2019

LONDON, UK: It has been established that patients with a phobia of dentistry may often delay visiting the dentist or avoid it altogether. It comes as welcome news, then, that a recent study has found that treatment plans offered by dentists are overwhelmingly influenced by the complexity of the patient’s oral situation and are not impeded by the presence of a phobia.

Though over 50 per cent of the British public say that they are anxious about visiting the dentist, 12 per cent have such high anxiety levels that it can be classified as a phobia. These patients frequently have poorer oral health and higher rates of dental caries, outcomes that are partially driven by an avoidance of clinical treatment.

A new study conducted by researchers from King’s College London set out to test whether the presence of a dental phobia modifies the proposed treatment plan for such a patient compared with the plan for a non-phobic patient. The researchers invited 79 UK-based dental practitioners to create a treatment plan for an imagined patient that had either simple or complex treatment needs based on a number of dependent variables, such as periodontal treatment, extractions and provision of crowns.

The results of the study showed that dentists offered a more complex treatment plan for complex conditions and that treatment decisions were primarily influenced by the oral needs of the patients, and not whether or not a dental phobia existed.

Dr Ellie Heidari, lead author of the study and a senior specialist clinical teacher at King’s College London, said in a release regarding the study: “In order to deliver dental care for people with dental phobia, it is important to adapt an approach, where prevention of oral diseases and preservation of teeth, when possible, is provided as part of dental care plans.”

“Another important component in their care would be to address dental phobia by providing them with an opportunity to access cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a therapy that has been proven to be very successful,” she added.

Dr Tim Newton, Professor of Psychology as Applied to Dentistry at King’s College London, commented: “Those with dental phobia are experiencing both the enormous challenges of living with their fear, and of having poorer oral health. It is gratifying to see that for the dental team the presence of a phobia is not perceived to be a barrier to complex restorative or preventive approaches. We hope to be able to ensure that not only do people with dental phobia derive the benefits of good oral health but also overcome their fear through the most effective treatment—cognitive behaviour therapy.”

The study, titled “The impact of dental phobia on care planning: A vignette study”, was published in the April 2019 issue of the British Dental Journal.

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