Researchers Make Genetic Link to Dental Anxiety

Millions of Americans suffer from dental-related anxiety, or dental phobia. For some, visiting the dentist can be completely paralyzing, fear of needles, drills, or the unknown taking over. Many of those who experience dental anxiety simply avoid visiting the dentist, sometimes for years on end. While it may seem like a better idea to stay away, without professional cleanings and regular examinations, oral disease can creep in, wreaking havoc on your mouth and ultimately your overall health. In an effort to better understand dental anxiety, and eventually learn how to treat it, scientists have researched the condition for years. Recently, psychologists have made a breakthrough in understanding where dental phobia begins, a huge step forward.

Researchers from the Department of Psychology at West Virginia University have discovered that in addition to environmental factors, genetic influences play an important role in the development of dental fear and anxiety. According to a recent article from the Dental Tribune, the study involved 1,370 participants, aged 11-74.

“The most important conclusion of this study is that our genes may predispose us to be more susceptible to developing dental fear, perhaps through pain-related variables,” soad Cameron L. Randall, lead author.

The research demonstrated that fear of pain, a problem related to dental fear, is heritable, or passed down from generation to generation. The scientists hope that the new findings could help with the development of interventions aimed at reducing the distress responsible for keeping patients from the dentist.

“This information, along with a well-documented understanding of the important role of prior experiences and environment in causing dental fear, may help us develop new ways to treat dental fear and phobia,” Randall added.

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