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New research into fear of dentists suggests the sound of tools may be to blame

Researchers in Japan believe they have found a link between the sound of dental tools and the anxiety that many patients suffer from. The sounds trigger a change in the brain activity of those who are afraid of the dentist that sets them apart from those who have no such fear.

Fear of visiting the dentist is a very common phobia. Around 11 to 12 per cent of the UK suffers from severe anxiety when the time comes to go for a checkup or a filling. Therefore discovering the causes of this fear means that dentists can better accommodate nervous patients.

At the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego on November 10th, it was reported that patients who were scared of visiting the dentist showed different neural activity to those who were more relaxed.

A study asked 21 women and 13 men aged 19 to 49 to complete a survey about how much they feared a trip to the dentist. They were sorted into high-fear and low-fear subjects, then their brains were scanned with a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine while they were played the sounds of dental drills and suction tools.

The high-fear subjects showed high activity in the left caudate nucleus area of the brain, rather than the area associated with hearing sounds. This is thought to mean that their brains are learning and remembering the sound of dental tools.

Hiroyuki Karibe, from Nippon Dental University in Tokyo, said that the results of this study will be valuable in helping scientists assess how to make dental patients more at ease.

Mr Karibe said: “We believe the findings can be applied to assess the effectiveness of interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy for patients who have a strong fear of dental treatment.”

It is thought that reducing the anxiety of dental patients can also reduce the amount of pain that they experience whilst in the chair. A recent survey found that 75 per cent of Britons do not feel any pain at all during trips to the dentist.

This research was conducted by Martin Tickle, professor of dental public health at Manchester University. He found that anxiety about visiting the dentist generally led to patients experiencing more pain during their visit.

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