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J Dent Res. 1999 Mar;78(3):790-6.

Age of onset of dental anxiety.

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Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Little attention has been given to the issue of the age of onset of dental anxiety, even though it may have a bearing on the origins of this type of fear. This study aimed to identify the age of onset of dental anxiety and to identify differences by age of onset with respect to potential etiological factors, such as negative dental experiences, family history of dental anxiety, and general psychological states. Data were collected by means of two mail surveys of a random sample of the adult population. Of 1420 subjects returning questionnaires, 16.4% were dentally anxious. Half, 50.9%, reported onset in childhood, 22.0% in adolescence, and 27.1% in adulthood. Logistic regression analyses indicated that negative dental experiences were predictive of dental fear regardless of age of onset. A family history of dental anxiety was predictive of child onset only. Adolescent-onset subjects were characterized by trait anxiety and adult-onset subjects by multiple severe fears and symptoms indicative of psychiatric problems. The three groups were similar in terms of their physiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses to dental treatment. However, adolescent- and adult-onset subjects were more hostile toward and less trusting of dentists. These results indicate that child-onset subjects were more likely to fall into the exogenous etiological category suggested by Weiner and Sheehan (1990), while adult-onset subjects were more likely to fall into the endogenous category.

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