A Swedish researcher has discovered severe dental fear among children and adolescents may be a reflection of anxiety expressed by parents.

Additionally, Annika Gustafsson, a specialist in children’s dentistry found that kids and teens with extreme fear often come from a turbulent background and are likely in counseling with a psychologist.

“I wanted to investigate how children and adolescents with dental behavior management problems who received specialist dental care differed from patients of the same age within ordinary dental care. I also wanted to discover why they cancel appointments and fail to attend appointments more often,” says Gustafsson.

So far, over 250 children and adolescents with dental behavior management problems and their parents have completed questionnaires describing their family situation and everyday life. Their answers have been compared with answers from the same number of patients within ordinary dental care.

“The children and adolescents with dental behavior management problems suffered significantly more from dental fear, and they lived in families with lower social class and poor economy. Most often, they lived in single-parent families, they had fewer leisure activities and more psychosocial problems than patients within ordinary dental care.”

Their parents, in turn, stated that they also suffered from severe dental fear and had greater problems with anxiety and worry than parents of children and adolescents within ordinary dental care.

“I believe that it has a negative effect on a child or adolescent if their parent does not want to go to the dentist with them due to the parent’s own fear,” says Gustafsson, who has compared the number of canceled appointments and appointments that they failed to attend for the children and adolescents with dental fear and for those in ordinary dental care.

“Children and adolescents that avoided dental appointments had had contact with a psychologist or counselor four times as often.”

She believes it is important that these patients are met with respect and understanding within the dental care system.

“We must also become better at discovering at an early age which children and adolescents need help and support. We should collaborate more closely with the social services,” says Annika Gustafsson.

About five percent of the population suffers from severe dental fear. The fear may have been caused by frightening experiences of dental care during childhood.

Fortunately, many types of help are available, including medication for anxiety, nitrous oxide gas, hypnosis and – in severe cases – anesthesia.

Source: University of Gothenburg