Treating dental fear at early age is more effective

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Treating dental fear at early age is more effective, research shows

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A study conducted in Finland found that dental anxiety treatment is more effective in children who are younger than 10 years. (Image: Halfpoint/Shutterstock)

OULU, Finland: Dental fear is one of the most common fears in developed countries. Globally, the overall prevalence in children and adolescents is estimated at 23.9%, with pre-schoolers showing the highest prevalence. In a unique long-term study, researchers from the University of Oulu observed the dental attendance of patients who received chairside dental treatment and anxiety treatment. They found that the treatment of dental fear was more effective at a younger age and led to more regular dental check-ups later in life.

The study included 152 patients who had received help with their dental fear alongside dental treatment from primary healthcare dentists at the Clinic for Fearful Dental Patients in Oulu. The aim of this treatment was to alleviate dental fear to such an extent that any following examinations could be administered in a normal dental care environment.

During the follow-up period of ten years, the research team investigated the impact of the dental fear treatment on patient behaviour by monitoring the number of dental examinations, emergency visits and missed appointments for these patients.

“The low-threshold treatment of dental fear in primary healthcare in conjunction with the dental care of the patient has only been studied to a limited extent. A study on long-term effects has not been published before,” said lead author Dr Taina Kankaala, who is from the Department of Cariology, Endodontology and Paediatric Dentistry at the university, in press release.

When compared, patients who received treatment at the dental fear clinic at a younger age (between 2 to 10 years) had significantly more dental examinations later on than those treated at an older age (older than 10 years). Success of the dental anxiety treatment was associated with the number of later examinations, but not with emergency visits and missed appointments.

Commenting on the results, Dr Kankaala said: “It was also surprising how well those who were successfully treated at the fear clinic coped with dental care in primary healthcare later on.” She added that unsuccessful treatment would, as expected, discourage patients from visiting the dentist regularly.

A previous study by the research team had found that more than two-thirds of 163 patients were successfully treated at the dental fear clinic. This meant that these patients could be treated in primary oral healthcare without any further referrals to the fear clinic.

“Patients who are afraid should be identified and their dental fear alleviated at an early age. Fearful patients can be challenging, and their treatment can be burdensome for oral healthcare workers. If the situation is not addressed, contrary to common belief, the child’s severe fear of dental care will usually not ease as the child grows,” emphasised Dr Kankaala. She continued, saying that dental fear treatment benefits not only the patient but also the dental team and reduces treatment costs in the long term.

The study, titled “10-year follow-up study on attendance pattern after dental treatment in primary oral health care clinic for fearful patients”, was published on 13 October 2021 in BMC Oral Health.

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