‘Extreme dental anxiety’ a problem for women

Nearly one in five women – and one in 10 men – will suffer ‘extreme dental anxiety’ before they even sit in the dentist’s chair, according to the biggest adult dental survey for a decade.

The results of the 2009 Adult Dental Health Survey (ADHS) also reveal that a greater percentage of younger adults experience extreme dental anxiety, than older adults.

The study, which gives a snapshot of adults’ teeth across England, Northern Ireland and Wales, shows that a greater percentage of adults in Wales have poor dental health compared to their counterparts in England.

The ADHS, which has taken place every decade since 1968, found that:
• ‘Extreme dental anxiety’ in the dentist’s waiting room affected 19% of all adult women and 10% of all men.
• 15% of adults aged 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 had ‘extreme dental anxiety’ compared with 9% of adults over 85

The survey, commissioned by The NHS Information Centre, was carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) working in partnership the National Centre for Social Research and a team of academics from the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff, Dundee, Newcastle and University College London.

A total of 11,380 adults were interviewed for the survey, and 6,469 adults were examined, making this the largest ever epidemiological survey of adult dental health in the UK.

For the first time ever, the ADHS sought to measure levels of dental anxiety amongst all adults who took part in the survey.

The Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS) was used to measure anxiety. Individuals were asked to rate the level of anxiety they would feel if they were in particular dental situations, including the need to go for dental treatment, sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, and waiting to have a tooth drilled.

The results show that:
• 12% of all adults were classified as having extreme dental anxiety
• 30% of all adults were extremely anxious about having a tooth drilled and 28% were extremely anxious about having an injection
• The majority of adults said that they would be anxious if they were about to have a tooth drilled (72%) or have an injection into their gum (70%).
• A greater proportion of women than men had dental anxiety on all five dimensions of the MDAS scale – 17% for women overall, and 8% for men.
Ian O’Sullivan, from ONS, said: ‘Just over half (51%) of adults who had ever been to the dentist were classified as having low or no dental anxiety, but over a third (36%) were classified as having moderate dental anxiety, and 12 per cent of adults were shown to have ‘extreme anxiety’.

‘The survey shows that, although Wales still has more serious dental problems than England, the overall picture of the state of the three nations’ teeth has greatly improved since the first Adult Dental Health Survey was conducted in 1968. The majority of adults (71%) had no decay on the crowns of their teeth. And three-fifths (61%) of adults in England with at least one natural tooth attended the dentist for regular check-ups, compared to 44% in 1978.’

Today’s publication contains preliminary findings from the survey, which was carried out between October 2009 and April 2010.

A series of more detailed reports are due to be published in March 2011.

Today’s report can be accessed at: www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/dentalsurvey09.

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