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Genes Might Be to Blame for Fear of the Dentist

According to psychology researchers at West Virginia University, there’s an actual genetic basis for the fear of receiving dental treatment, a common concern among many people.
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
PUBLISHED: Friday, October 28, 2016
According to psychology researchers at West Virginia University, there’s an actual genetic basis for the fear of receiving dental treatment, a common concern among many people. Since fear of going to the dentist is a prevalent problem preventing large numbers of people from seeking dental care when they need it, the researchers hope that this new information about the possible causes of that fear can be used to develop new interventions to reduce patient distress and anxiety.
 
The study used a novel approach to gathering information from a large, family-based cohort of study participants. Participants ranged from 11 – 74 years old. The research team initially hypothesized that dental fear was due, in part, to genetic influences inherited from family members. Both heritability and genetic relationships to dental fear were estimated using likelihood-based methods.
 
Different measures of dental fear and fear of pain were identified, since the fear of pain is often a predictor and critical component of dental fear. Assessment of the heritability of dental fear and fear of pain was a part of the attempt to explain the role genetics play in both situations.
 
It was shown that dental fear was 30% heritable, while fear of pain was 34% heritable. It was also shown that there was a major correlation between fear of pain and dental fear. This suggests that both fears are genetically related, even though they are likely distinct genetic phenotypes. However, this could provide more insight as to how the fear of pain actually contributes to the development of fear of dental procedures.
 
Cameron Randall, one of the scientists working on the study, explained that “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. 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.”
 
Since a relationship between dental fear and anxiety and the fear of pain were shown to exist, it’s now hoped that these conclusions can pave the way for future studies. It’s important to continue to examine these genetic factors as influencers of patients’ oral and overall health since dental-care related fear is common and can cause delays in treatment or avoidance of treatment altogether.

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