Sydney: People with anxious personalities are more likely to have poor oral health, including decayed or missing teeth, says a new study.
The recent study examined anxiety levels of 1,037 participants aged 15 to 32 in the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. About a quarter of the group were identified as dentally anxious.
Split into three groups, they had always been dentally anxious (stable anxious); or had developed dental anxiety later as adolescents (adolescent-onset anxious), or as adults (adult-onset anxious).
Those in the stable anxious group had more tooth decay at age five and early experience with dentists.
The adult-onset group was more likely to have lost teeth between the ages of 26 and 32, while the adolescent-onset anxious group had experienced more tooth decay from the age of 15.
Those with dental anxiety were more than just people who visit the dentist with a feeling of trepidation as the dentist looms over them with a drill in hand.
They were so frightened at the prospect of visiting a dentist or having dental procedures that they would avoid the dentist altogether - until the problem became so serious that treatment could no longer be avoided.
Researchers, lead by Murray Thomson, professor of dental sciences at Otago University, probed deeper into the characteristics of these anxious groups.
"Usually, these people become more and more anxious through a vicious cycle of avoiding the dentist to the point where their dental condition becomes much worse," Thomson says.
"They then require more unpleasant treatment options such as lancing an abscess, root canal treatment or a tooth extraction; and this reinforces their dental anxiety and makes it even less likely that they will visit the dentist next time they have a problem."
As a consequence, people who are dentally anxious end up with more tooth decay and more missing teeth than those who are not.
These findings were published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.