Management of children's dental anxiety

Development of dental anxiety

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Development of dental anxiety

There is no single explanation for the development of dental anxiety and a variety of different mechanisms have been applied to understanding the aetiology of dental anxiety. Rachman proposed three different possible mechanisms of fear acquisition which included i) exposure to threatening information ii) vicarious learning (e.g. observing significant others displaying anxious behaviours) and iii) direct experience. Whilst there is limited support for the informational pathway in the acquisition of children’s dental fear research has revealed that child and parental dental anxiety are closely linked, providing some support for the argument that the modelling pathway may be important in the development of children’s dental anxiety . Direct experience, however, has also been found to play a significant role in the development of children’s dental anxiety . Classical conditioning is one of the mechanisms through which fear can develop following previous negative dental encounters. This is the process whereby a once neutral stimuli (e.g. a dental probe) becomes associated with a negative experience (e.g. pain) as a result of these stimuli being paired together in the past (e.g. a painful dental examination) . Indeed children who report previous negative or traumatic dental experiences are more likely to experience higher levels of dental anxiety than those who have had more positive dental experiences .

However, not all children who experience negative dental encounters develop dental anxiety. Davey’s latent inhibition hypothesis proposes that people who have a series of painless appointments, before they experience a traumatic event, are less likely to develop dental anxiety than those people who experience a traumatic dental experience early in their lives and previous research supports this .

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