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27 Jul 2021

Measuring Dental Fear – Are You Phobic?

There are many different approaches to measuring dental phobia. Some surveys, such as the Dental Fear Survey and Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale, look only to identify patients with dental anxiety. 

Others attempt to categorise fear. For example, the Seattle Index places dental phobia into one of four categories – simple conditioned phobia; the fear of having a catastrophic reaction like a heart attack or fainting fit during treatment; generalised anxiety and distrust of dentists.

One of the simplest tests is the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS) developed by Gerry Humphris of the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

The survey asks patients to answer five simple questions, rating their answers on a scale of 1-5. Each question is scored as follows:

  1. Not anxious
  2. Slightly anxious
  3. Fairly anxious
  4. Very anxious
  5. Extremely anxious  

Answer the following five questions, then add up your score.

  1. If you went to your dentist for treatment tomorrow, how would you feel?
  2. If you were sitting in the waiting room (waiting for treatment), how would you feel?
  3. If you were about to have a tooth drilled, how would you feel?
  4. If you were about to have your teeth scaled and polished, how would you feel?
  5. If you were about to have a local anaesthetic in your gum above an upper back tooth, how would you feel?

How Did You Score? 

A score of 19 or more on the MDAS scale is a sure sign you are living with a dental phobia. However, if you feel nervous about dental appointments but didn’t score highly on the test, you could still benefit from making friends with a Phobia-Certified dentist – especially if your fears are preventing you from getting treatment.

Other Measurement Systems

The MDAS is just one way of measuring dental fear. Alternatives have sought to provide more detailed answers and some have established different categories of dental anxiety. 

Dental Fear Survey

The Dental Fear Survey (DFS) is a series of 20 questions about various scenarios, feelings and reactions. 

Modified Child Dental Anxiety Scale

The Modified Child Dental Anxiety Scale (MCDAS) is eight questions for children. The questionnaire asks respondents to grade their anxiety about different dental scenarios on a scale of 1-5. 

Index of Dental Anxiety and Fear

The Index of Dental Anxiety and Fear is two questionnaire modules consisting of eight and ten questions each. 

Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale

Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale is two groups of four and 26 questions. The scale uses a ranking scale to assign points to each answer. Results can then be rated from moderate to severe anxiety.  

Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Index 

The Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Index (STA) is used to differentiate between the temporary anxiety of visiting a dentist and more long-term anxiety or depression.   

Anxiety Sensitivity Index

The Anxiety Sensitivity Index (ASI) is a series of 16 questions used to determine worries about anxiety symptoms.

Seattle System

The Seattle System diagnoses dental anxiety according to four distinct types ranging from a simple conditioned fear and anxiety about adverse reactions during treatment to general anxiety and mistrust of dentists.

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