The causes of dental anxiety can be simply categorized as those resulting from a direct experience or an indirect experience.
Research has shown that dental fear generally starts in childhood (85%) and the dentist’s professional behaviour/interpersonal behaviour was the most important cause. When fear was acquired in adult years pain was the most important cause.
- The most common way dental fear is acquired indirectly is from parent to child. This route of acquisition can be from hearing parents talk of their fear or dislike of dentistry or by seeing a parent react adversely to dentistry.
- The mass media can communicate dental fear through cartoons, movies and television.
- Finally, distressing medical procedures can sometimes result in fear generalizing to the dental environment.
The fear experienced in the medical setting automatically gets triggered in the dental setting.
Additional sources that contribute to dental fear include the patient experiencing a sense of helplessness over a situation that may cause them pain or injury. Fearful patients can also be overwhelmed by negative/catastrophising thoughts. These patients anticipate pain “This is going to be very sore” or problems “The drill is going to slip and cut me”.
Some people also have a fearful disposition. These people experience anxiety and fear in numerous situations.
Identifying the cause of dental anxiety can often aid the treatment of dental anxiety by targeting specific behaviors, or cognitions (thoughts).