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Researchers discover genetic basis for dental anxiety

By Dental Tribune International
October 20, 2016

MORGANTOWN, W.Va., USA: Dental care-related anxiety, caused by fear of pain in particular, is a common problem that affects dental visiting patterns and jeopardizes the oral and general health of large parts of the population worldwide. Psychologists in the U.S. have now found that, in addition to environmental factors, genetic influences play an important role in the development of dental fear and anxiety.

The study, which included 1,370 participants (aged 11–74), of whom 827 were female, demonstrated that fear of pain, a problem related to, but separate from dental fear, is heritable. The researchers found that some of the genes that influence fear of pain likely influence dental fear too.

“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,” said Cameron L. Randall, lead author and doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology at West Virginia University, at which the study was conducted.

The researchers believe that the new findings could have important implications for improving future dental treatment, as a better understanding of dental anxiety could lead to the development of interventions aimed at reducing distress that is a barrier to seeking dental care.
“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 concluded.

The study, titled “Toward a genetic understanding of dental fear: Evidence of heritability,” was published online on Oct. 11 in the Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology journal ahead of print.

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