Is <em>This</em> Why You're So Afraid Of The Dentist?

IsWhy You're So Afraid Of The Dentist?

Are you one of those people who fears going to the dentist? If so, what's the absolute worst part of it: The drilling? The lecture to floss more? The bleeding gums? The gagging?

If you said the gagging, you're not alone -- a new study in the Journal of the American Dental Association shows that about half of people have gagged at least once during dental visits. And the more problems people had with gagging, the more likely they were to report dental-care-related fears.

A lot of people are afraid of the dentist -- 45 percent of adults in the U.S., for instance, say they have "at least moderate fears about receiving dental treatment," according to the study. Researchers from West Virginia University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wanted to see just how gagging factored into these fears, as well as how common it was to gag during a dental exam in the first place.

To test this, they recruited 478 people into their study. While they didn't find a big difference in gagging frequency between sex, age or education, they did find associations between frequency of gagging and dental-care-related fear -- with people who gagged less often being less afraid of dental professionals or treatments, compared with people who gagged more.

In addition, the trigger for gagging also seemed to play a role in how likely someone was to be afraid of the dentist. Specifically, people whose gag reflexes were triggered by "less-intrusive stimuli" (such as the dentist putting his or her fingers in the patient's mouth) had greater levels of fear, compared with those whose gag reflexes were triggered by things like dental instruments or the bitewing radiograph films.

While the study shows an association between gagging and dental fears, it's impossible to say which causes the other: "It may be that dental care-related fear causes more frequent gagging in the dental office, that frequent gagging causes apprehension and leads to the development of dental care-related fear, or, more likely, that a feedback cycle exists wherein fear results in more frequent gagging that reinforces and perpetuates the fear," the researchers wrote.

Fortunately, there has also been research on what can help people get over their fear of the dentist. Some strategies, detailed in a 2012 study in the journal Acta Odontologica Scandinavica, include telling yourself that the pain feels like something else, praying for the treatment to end soon, telling yourself you'll be OK afterward, telling yourself to be strong, and thinking about something else entirely.

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