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Posted on 2nd May 2017

Children Feel More Positive About The Dentist Than Adults

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54% of children like going to the dentist whilst 48% of adults experience some anxiety before visiting a dentist, with teenagers suffering the most anxiety.

A trip to the dentist isn't most people's outing of choice. Yet according to statistics released by the European Journal of Dentistry, children feel much more positively towards the dentist than adults.

We thought this was an interesting fact so decided to dig a bit deeper into how different age groups feel about the dentist. We learnt that though anxiety tends to decrease over time, we start out much less anxious about the dentist, hit a peak of anxiety during our teenage years and learn to relax in the dentist's chair over the following decades.

In this article we're going to take you through our discoveries, showing you facts, tables and graphs that explain how dental anxiety works at different ages and what it is that adults don't like about a dentist visit.

Main Findings:

Young children experience the least anxiety, but 12 year olds experience the most

If we look at the experience of moderate and extreme anxiety across all ages it's clear that young kids experience the least anxiety out of every age group by a significant margin. Only 17% of 8 year olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland experience moderate to extreme anxiety on average whereas for adults it's nearer a fifty/fifty split.

Five year olds also experience little anxiety, with on average only 21% experiencing moderate to extreme anxiety, and 77% experiencing no or very low anxiety. Overall, girls tend to experience more anxiety than boys:

Children's Dental Health Survey 2013, Repot 1: Attitudes, Behaviours and Children's Dental Health, Health & Social Care Information Centre

These findings match up with data published by the European Journal of Dentistry which asked kids if they enjoyed the dentist, rather than focusing on anxiety. 54% of children said they liked the dentist, 14% said they didn't and 15% said they were afraid, which is a similar finding to the Health and Social Care Information Centre's research.

Between the ages of 8 and 12 years old people's dental anxiety leaps from the lowest it is ever likely to be, to the highest.

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What's really interesting, when comparing data across age groups is how children's anxiety levels change over four short years.

Between the ages of 8 and 12 people's dental anxiety leaps from the lowest it is ever likely to be to the highest. A massive 76% of 12 year olds experience moderate or extreme anxiety at the dentist - that's a jump of 59%.

 

Age (years olds)

Percentage experiencing moderate/extreme anxiety

5

21

8

17

12

76

15

64

Though you might expect 15 year olds, who are well in to their teenage years, to experience the most anxiety, it is actually 12 year olds who experience the most anxiety compared to all other age ranges.

After peaking, anxiety decreases with age

Though anxiety shoots up at age 12, it's a downhill trend from here, with people becoming increasingly comfortable as time goes on, though the decrease is nowhere near as dramatic. Once into our forties about half of us (51%) experience no or low anxiety, and this continues to decrease until our mid-sixties when only 37% of us experience anxiety. This is as low as anxiety levels get.

 

Age (years olds)

Percentage experiencing moderate/extreme anxiety

5

21

8

17

12

76

15

64

16-24

57

25-34

55

45-54

49

55-64

45

65-74

37

75-84

37

85+

37

Adults are most anxious about tooth drilling and injections, but are more anxious sitting in the waiting room than having a scale and polish

As you might imagine, the most anxiety inducing experiences are tooth drilling and injections – pain, understandably, makes us scared. What is interesting though, is that sitting in the waiting room actually makes adults more anxious than having a less painful treatment like a scale and polish.

The build up to the event can be scarier than the actual experience.

We really hate having our mouths open for a long time

Here at Negligence Claimline we conducted our own research to find out what else makes us uncomfortable at the dentist beyond the usual tooth drilling and injections. It turns out that though the majority of respondents disliked injections the most, in close second came “keeping your mouth open for a long time”.

Take a look at all the research we conducted and analysed in detail below.

The research in detail:

1. How do children feel?

2. How do teenagers feel?

3. How do adults feel?

4. What do adults dislike the most about the dentist?

5. Is dental anxiety the main cause of avoiding dentist appointments?

How do children feel about the dentist?

54% of children say they like the dentist, 14% don't like it and 15% say they're afraid of it.

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Though children tend to like the dentist, there are plenty that find it a very stressful situation. 14% of kids don't like the dentist and 15% say they are actually afraid of the experience.

The paper published by the EJD also asked children about other experiences at the dentist such as how the room should look and what the dentist should be wearing.

Kids have strong feelings about what the dentist should wear and how the room should look. 90% of children prefer the dentist to wear a white coat and when it comes to masks and glasses, 31% of children prefer the dentist to wear no dental protection, whilst 40% prefer it.

Here are the results in full:

Eur J Dent. 2011 Apr; 5(2): 186–190, Accessed via US National Center for Biotechnology Information

How did you feel during dental treatment? – children's responses

Percentage

Don't like it

14%

Afraid of it

15%

Don't know

17%

Like it

54%

 

Eur J Dent. 2011 Apr; 5(2): 186–190, Accessed via US National Center for Biotechnology Information

Eur J Dent. 2011 Apr; 5(2): 186–190, Accessed via US National Center for Biotechnology Information

Which dentist outfit do you prefer?

Percentage

Coloured coat

10%

White coat

90%

 

Which type of dentist do you prefer?

Percentage

No dental protection

31%

Protective glasses

12%

Mask

17%

Mask & protective glasses

40%

Children's experience of anxiety at the dentist:

In 2013 parents from England, Wales and Northern Ireland reported that 51% of 5 years olds were not anxious at the dentist, 26% experienced low anxiety, 21% had moderate to extreme anxiety and 2% had never been to the dentist.

In comparison, 55% of 8 year olds were not anxious, 27% had low anxiety, 17% had moderate to extreme anxiety and 1% had not been to the dentist.

How do young teenagers feel about the dentist?

12 year olds report feeling more moderate or extreme anxiety than 15 year olds do when they visit the dentist. Girls are generally more anxious than boys.

68% of 12 year old males experience moderate or extreme anxiety, whereas only 56% of 15 year old males feel this way at the dentist.

In comparison, 84% of 12 year old females feel moderately or extremely anxious when in the dentists, this drops to 72% when the girls reach 15 years old.

What are young teenagers most anxious about?

In 2013 the Children's Dental Health Survey asked children when they felt most anxious when visiting the dentist. These are the results:

Percentage of children who self-rated extremely anxious on the different parts of a dentist appointment:

 

12 year olds

15 year olds

 

Male

Female

Male

Female

If went to dentist tomorrow

7

13

4

11

In the waiting room

9

15

5

14

If tooth drilled

43

59

30

49

For scale and polish

10

16

5

13

For injection

42

62

28

53

Children's Dental Health Survey 2013, Repot 1: Attitudes, Behaviours and Children's Dental Health, Health & Social Care Information Centre

Understandably tooth drilling and injections cause the most anxiety across both ages and genders, though interestingly women find injections scarier than tooth drilling, whereas men experience the opposite.

How do adults feel about the dentist? Anxiety levels during a trip:

12% of adults who had ever been to a dentist had a score of 19 or more on the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale(MDAS3). This score suggests extreme dental anxiety.

What are adults anxious about?

People are most anxious about having injections and having their teeth drilled. People find sitting in the waiting room creates more anxiety than a scale and polish:

Adult Dental Health Survey 2009: Theme 8, Barriers and Access to Care, Health & Social Care Information Centre

 

Not anxious

Slightly/fairly anxious

Very/extremely anxious

Going for treatment tomorrow

53

34

13

In the waiting room

50

35

15

If tooth drilled

28

42

30

For scale and polish

62

30

8

For injection

30

41

28

So if adults find the experience more anxiety-inducing than children, what specifically is it that we don't like? We conducted some original research to find out what specifically aspects of a dentist visit we don't like:

People hate having injections, but they also hate having their mouths open for a long time:

Google Consumer Survey May 2016, 500 respondents

What do you most dislike about being at the dentist?

Percentages

Having injections

32%

Keeping your mouth open for a long time

21%

Noises made by equipment

19%

Being lectured on oral hygiene

11%

Dentist being close to your face

9%

The taste of pastes and dental material

8%

32% of dental patients hate having injections, but a fifth would prefer an injection to keeping their mouth open for a long time.

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It's not just injections and pain that people dislike about the dentist, other more unusual aspects bother people too. Keeping your mouth open comes in second as the most disliked part of a dentist visit and noisy equipment comes in third.

Do we avoid the dentist because we are anxious?

Though some people do avoid the dentist for the stated reason that they “don't like it”, according to NHS research the picture is more complex than that. A combination of not liking to visit and believing that a visit isn't needed account for around a quarter of reasons not to go.

The main reasons stated by respondents for why they have not tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the last two years is “I don't like to go” or “I haven't needed to go” with just over a quarter (28%) of the respondents stating this reason.

The NHS recommends you visit the dentist at least once every two years, so if you are like one of those 21% of respondents stating “I haven't needed to go”, you are not following NHS advice.

According to data gathered by the NHS the reasons people have not visited an NHS dentist in the last two years are:

 

Reasons for not visiting an NHS dentist in last two years

Percentage

Not needed to visit a dentist

21%

No longer have any natural teeth

6%

Not had time to visit a dentist

3%

Didn't like going to the dentist

7%

Didn't think they could get an NHS dentist

12%

Stayed with their dentist when changed from NHS to private

15%

Prefer to go to a private dentist

23%

Find NHS dental care is too expensive

5%

Other

9%

Interestingly at least 12% of respondents did not realise they could get a dental appointment on the NHS.

Breakdown of results by gender:

Men:

 

Reasons for not visiting an NHS dentist in last two years

Percentage

Not needed to visit a dentist

25%

No longer have any natural teeth

5%

Not had time to visit a dentist

3%

Didn't like going to the dentist

7%

Didn't think they could get an NHS dentist

13%

Stayed with their dentist when changed from NHS to private

12%

Prefer to go to a private dentist

21%

Find NHS dental care is too expensive

5%

Other

9%

Women:

 

Reasons for not visiting an NHS dentist in last two years

Percentage

Not needed to visit a dentist

16%

No longer have any natural teeth

8%

Not had time to visit a dentist

2%

Didn't like going to the dentist

7%

Didn't think they could get an NHS dentist

11%

Stayed with their dentist when changed from NHS to private

18%

Prefer to go to a private dentist

24%

Find NHS dental care is too expensive

5%

Other

9%

Sources:

Feel free to use any of the data, tables or graphs presented here. All we ask is you link back to this page.

http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17137/CDHS2013-Report1-Attitudes-and-Behaviours.pdf

http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB01086/adul-dent-heal-surv-summ-them-the8-2009-re10.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3075993/

Unless otherwise specified all data comes from Children's Dental Health Survey 2013 and the Adult Dental Health Survey 2009

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