Anxiety leads to poor oral health: study

Monday 9th November 2009

People with anxious personalities are more likely to have poor oral health, including decayed or missing teeth, a University of Otago study has found.

A recent study, published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, looked at the anxiety levels of 1037 participants aged 15 to 32 in the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study and identified about one quarter of the group who were 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 of 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 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, led by Professor Murray Thomson, of the University's Department of Oral Sciences, probed deeper into the characteristics of these anxious groups and found that they tended to be "the glass-half-empty" personality type - people who, as a rule, would be anxious about other things, such as heights. Some in this group were also anxious due to bad dental experiences in the past.