Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could help many people with a dental phobia overcome their fear of visiting the dentist and enable them to receive dental treatment without the need to be sedated, according to a new study by King’s College London.
People with dental phobias typically avoid going to the dentist and end up experiencing more dental pain, poorer oral health and a detrimental effect on their quality of life.
CBT is a short-term therapy, typically lasting six to 10 sessions, and has been shown to help with a range of psychological problems.
The latest study, published in the British Dental Journal, looked at 130 patients (99 women and 31 men) attending a psychologist-led CBT service. Patients were surveyed for their levels of dental anxiety, general anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol use and oral health-related quality of life.
Three-quarters of those assessed scored 19 or higher on the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS), indicating dental phobia. The remainder all scored high on one or more items of the MDAS, suggesting a specific fear of some aspect of dentistry. Fear of dental injections and the dental drill were the most common high scoring items on the MDAS. Nearly all patients (94%) reported a knock-on effect from problems with their teeth, mouth or gums on their daily living and quality of life.
Of all patients referred, four-fifths (79%) went on to have dental treatment without the need for sedation and 6% had their dental treatment under sedation. The average number of CBT appointments required before a patient received dental treatment without sedation was five.
Professor Tim Newton from the Dental Institute at King’s College London said: “People with dental phobia are most commonly given sedation to allow them to become relaxed enough for a short period of time to have their dental treatment performed. However, this does not help them to overcome their fear in the long term. Our study shows that after on average five CBT sessions, most people can go on to be treated by the dentist without the need to be sedated”.