Research makes the dentist less scary
A friendly, confident dentist is the best antidote to the fear of visiting a dentist, according to a new study from James Cook University in Cairns.
The study was a collaboration between psychology researcher Associate Professor Marie Caltabiano, and senior lecturer in dentistry, Dr Felicity Croker, along with fourth-year dentistry students.
The students surveyed patients at the JCU Dental Clinic, asking them about their anxiety levels before and after their appointments.
“We know dental anxiety plays a central role in the avoidance of dental treatment,” Associate Professor Caltabiano said.
“There is a cycle in which dentally anxious people avoid dental care and leave their oral health issues to worsen, until unbearable symptoms drive them to seek treatment.
“This pattern reinforces the fear of dental treatment and feelings of dental anxiety. Also, we know that those who have high levels of dental fear have poor oral health habits, which actually increases the need for treatment at check-ups.”
More than one-hundred patients took part in the study, which found that female patients reported higher dental anxiety than males, and younger patients were more anxious than older patients.
“This was an important study because it was the students who initially raised the issue of anxiety and wanted to know more about how to help patients deal with their fears,” Dr Croker said. “Many patients at the clinic have put off treatment for some time, often because of anxiety.”
The survey confirmed that drills, needles and long appointments all inspired anxiety.
“We also looked at what could help patients feel less anxious,” Associate Professor Caltabiano said. “The results show that if the patient perceives their dentist – in this case a student dentist – to have good clinical ability and good interpersonal skills, they will feel less anxious.
Dr Croker said the research helped students to understand and manage patients’ anxiety.
“The Clinic aims for a friendly and relaxing atmosphere, and it’s helpful for the students to know how to put the patient’s mind at rest.
“As a teaching clinic, we know our appointments are always going to be longer, but we can reassure patients that a lot of that time is to allow for supervisors to check student work and make sure their treatment is done to a high standard.
“We can also reassure people on their first visit, by telling them it will be a check-up, and time to get to know their dentist and discuss their treatment.”
Patients at the JCU Dental Clinic are treated by senior dentistry students, supervised by experienced dentists. General dentistry treatment is free for patients with Queensland concession cards.
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