A dental fear clinic in Oulu, Finland, is running programmes to put a stop to dental anxiety.
The Clinic for Fearful Dental Patients is using programmes for local people to try to reduce anxiety and prevent stress among young patients. It is estimated that around 50% of people experience mild anxiety when going to the dentist and 10% have signs of severe anxiety.
Researchers based in Oulu are using techniques, which involve exposing patients to desensitising checks that combine dental care with anxiety-reducing methods. As part of the programme, patients who attend the clinic are treated by three professionals who have a special interest in treating nervous patients. Two are dental practitioners who lecture on dental phobia and fear and the third practitioner is a hypnotherapist.
Study author, Vuokko Anttonen, a professor of cariology, endodontology and paediatric dentistry at the University of Oulu, explained that the programme was designed to treat people who experience profound dental fear. All of the patients treated by the team were aged between 2 and 51, with 80% aged between 2 and 10 years old. All participants had been referred to the clinic after being unable to undergo treatment due to dental anxiety.
The report, which was published online in BMC Health, outlined the clinic’s approach. Using a two-pronged methodology, practitioners focused on promoting calm and relaxation through targeted exercises and techniques and utilising pain control.
After the trial period, data was collected and evaluated following a reassessment of the participants, who were tracked for ten years. The findings showed that patients were more likely to attend regular appointments, especially children who were very young during the initial study period. As a result of reduced anxiety and more frequent dental appointments, patients were also less likely to need emergency dental treatment.
Prof Anttonen explained that fear is a natural response to unfamiliar situations, but if it gets to a point where it prevents people from going to the dentist, it must be addressed. Creating positive experiences and putting measures in place to reduce and prevent fear at a young age can be hugely beneficial.