June 22, 2005 Women are 2.5 times more likely than men to fear a visit to the dentist, says a new University of Toronto study.
The research, conducted by U of T master's degree candidate Brian Chanpong and dentistry professors Daniel Haas and David Locker, is the first-ever nationwide Canadian study of fear and anxiety about visiting the dentist. It is published in the June issue of Anesthesia Progress. The researchers say the level of fear among men is probably underreported.
"Women are more likely to be honest about their feelings," says Chanpong, who is now practising dental anesthesia in Vancouver. "The typical male would be less likely to admit to being afraid of the dentist." Yet, adds Haas, "It's the young, healthy males who are the ones who often faint in the dental office."
Overall, 5.5 per cent of the 1,100 Canadians surveyed were very afraid of seeing a dentist, and about half of those had cancelled or avoided a dental appointment as a result, compared with only 5.2 per cent of those people who reported low anxiety. Extrapolate the numbers to the adult Canadian population, and the data suggest more than 400,000 people may not have visited the dentist last year due to fear or anxiety; more than 1.5 million may have cancelled or avoided an appointment at some time in their lives.
"If it's left, people may get by, but cavities and gum disease can lead to infection and to a serious, systemic health issue," says Haas. "It's not just a cosmetic issue." One potential remedy is increased use of general anesthesia or sedation. The survey data indicate that 12.4 per cent of those surveyed were definitely interested in those options, with another 42.3 per cent expressing interest if the cost were not prohibitive.
"Both dentists and the general public need to be aware that these options are available," says Haas. "Consider comparable medical procedures -- people never even question whether there's a need for sedation, it's simply accepted practice."
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