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Laughing in the Face of Dental Fear May Ease Worries

WEDNESDAY Feb. 22, 2012 -- If you're afraid of going to the dentist, optimism and humor might help ease your worries, new research suggests.

About 50 percent of adults suffer some degree of dental fear and about 5 percent have severe dental fear. Even so, most people with dental fear go to the dentist regularly.

Swedish researchers have found that important factors in managing stress during a dental visit include optimism on the part of the patient and an atmosphere of humor in a patient's interaction with the dental staff.

In one study, the University of Gothenburg team asked people with dental fear to complete a questionnaire and identified five main methods used by the patients to fight dental fear:

  • Using internal resources. For example, telling yourself you're strong enough to endure it, despite your fear.
  • Self-distraction. For example, counting or singing to yourself or playing mental games with yourself to keep your mind off the dental treatment.
  • Distancing. For example, telling yourself that the pain sensation feels like something else, such as numbness.
  • Prayer.
  • Optimism. For example, thinking ahead to when the treatment is over.

"The study has shown that patients who adopt an optimistic mindset cope with dental treatment significantly better and they visit the dentist more regularly than patients who spend their time in prayer, despair or catastrophizing," researcher Jenny Bernson said in a university news release.

In a second study, interviews with patients with dental fear revealed that humor was an important factor in dealing with dental visits.

"Psychological barriers can be broken down by humor, both as a result of the patient and the dentist coming together more as equals, and as a result of humor reducing stress, increasing well-being and creating a pleasant atmosphere," Bernson said.

More information

The Columbia University College of Dental Medicine has more about dental anxiety and phobia.

Posted: February 2012


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