Treating fear of dental care in childhood is effective and predicts more regular dental checkups later in life, according to a study from the University of Oulu, Finland.
About one in two adults say they are at least somewhat afraid of dental care, and one in ten say they are very afraid. One manifestation of dental fear is avoidance of treatment, which can lead to a vicious cycle of deteriorating oral health and dealing with pain.
The study followed patients treated at the Clinic for Fearful Dental Patients (CFDP) in the city of Oulu. At the clinic, patients receive help for their dental fear alongside dental treatment as part of a comprehensive treatment. The operating model is quite unique in Finland, where the focus is both on managing dental fear and providing the necessary care at the same time.
The study looked at the long-term effects of the fear treatment period, i.e. whether patients went to their own clinic for check-ups after CFDP treatment ended; whether they did not visit the dentist at all or how many times they had to visit primary health care for emergency treatment. The ten-year follow-up included a total of 152 patients.
“The low-threshold treatment of dental fear in primary care in conjunction with patient dental care has only been studied to a limited extent. A study of long-term effects has not been previously published. “, says lead researcher, dental specialist Taina Kankaala.
Treating fear of dental care in childhood is effective
According to the study, a period of childhood care (at age 2 to 10 years) at the dental fear clinic was associated with a higher number of later dental examinations compared to treatment at a older age.
“It was also surprising how successfully those who were treated at the fear clinic coped with dental treatment in primary health care afterwards. On the other hand, it was normal that if the treatment failed for some reason, the dental care visits would not be regular later,” says Kankaala.
According to a previous study by the research team, up to seven out of ten patients are successfully treated at the fear clinic, so that patients can be successfully treated in primary health care and a new referral to the fear clinic is not necessary.
Patients who are afraid should be identified
According to Kankaala, fear of dental care should be discussed, especially if the patient cancels appointments, does not come for dental care at all, or repeatedly requests emergency treatment for pain.
“Fearful patients need to be identified and their dental fear alleviated at an early age. Fearful patients can be difficult and their treatment can be distressing for oral health workers. If left untreated, Contrary to common belief, the child’s acute fear of dental care will generally not subside as the child grows.Appropriate and personalized treatment of dental fear benefits not only the patient but also the medical staff, while reducing treatment costs for all parties in the long run,” says Kankaala.
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Taina Kankaala et al, 10-year follow-up study of attendance pattern after dental treatment in a primary oral care clinic for fearful patients, BMC Oral Health (2021). DOI: 10.1186/s12903-021-01869-6
Provided by the University of Oulu
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