A trip to the dentist usually stirs up anxiety, and experts say this terrifying feeling could turn into a full-fledge phobia when the visit has marked a strong impact on a person's well-being.

An Adult Dental Health Survey discovered that one in 10 people in the UK suffers from dental phobia or odontophobia. People with dental phobia typically avoid dental check-ups and treatments. They often end up experiencing poorer oral health, more dental pain, and a detrimental effect on their quality of life, experts said.

Now, a new study featured in the British Dental Journal found that an average of five cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions could help people with dental phobia beat their fear of visiting the dentist. This would allow these individuals to receive dental treatment without being sedated.

CBT is a short-term therapy that usually lasts for six to 10 sessions. Previous studies show that the therapy has helped treat a wide range of psychological problems such as anxiety-related disorders. Cognitive and behavioral interventions are also effective in reducing anxiety regarding dental trips and increasing dental attendance.

In the new research, experts at King's College London (KCL) examined 130 patients who were enrolled in a CBT service at the Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

Researchers surveyed the participants for their levels of general anxiety, dental anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol consumption, and oral health-related quality of life through the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS).

79 percent of the patients underwent dental treatments without sedation. The study's researchers found that patients who receive an average of five CBT sessions can undergo dental treatments without sedation.

"CBT provides a way of reducing the need for sedation in people with a phobia, but there will still be those who need sedation because they require urgent dental treatment or they are having particularly invasive treatments," explained Professor Tim Newton of the KCL's Dental Institute Health Psychology Service. "Our service should be viewed as complementing sedation services rather than as an alternative, the two together providing a comprehensive care pathway for the ultimate benefit of patients."

Meanwhile, 75 percent of the participants scored 19 or higher on the MDAS, indicating dental phobia. Fear of the dental drill and injections were the most common items with the high score on the MDAS. Approximately 94 percent of the participants said they experienced a knock-on effect from problems with their mouth, teeth or gums as a result of avoiding the dentist.

Of the 31 men and 99 women surveyed in this study, about 37 percent had high levels of general anxiety, 12 percent had high levels of depression, 12 percent reported having suicidal thoughts, and 3 percent had once intended to commit suicide. These patients were then referred to support services.

Photo: Emran Kassim | Flickr

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