WVU Research Shows Fear of Dentist Causes Problems for Patient - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WVU Research Shows Fear of Dentist Causes Problems for Patient

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Going to the dentist might not be your favorite bi-annual event. A new study done at WVU said that the fear of going to the dentist actually causes more problems in the long run.

"Every patient that I see, I try not to assume that they're not afraid or they are afraid because there's a lot of people that do surprise me," said Tiffany Summerlin, a dental hygienist at the Monongalia County Health Department. "Some people that you wouldn't imagine that they are afraid. I can't make assumptions about anyone. Some people are just deathly afraid of coming to the dentist and it's important for me to validate those fears and talk them through it."

Cameron Randall, a WVU psychology doctoral student, completed research that shows people can become afraid of the dentist for a number of reasons.

He said people who are fearful of the dentist tend to go to the dentist for an emergency, while people who aren't afraid go for regular preventative care.

"These people who are less fearful are likely to have restorations, restorative procedures, like fillings and crowns, instead of extractions," Randall said. "Fear seems to be associated with people losing their teeth because the fear leads them to avoid the dentist. They're not getting the treatment they need."

Randall received a National Research Service Award. It's to start looking whether variants of a certain gene are associated with heightened dental pain sensitivity and higher levels of fear of the dentist.

"The thought is that people with variants of this gene are more likely to have heightened pain sensitivity, so a lower pain tolerance and threshold," said Randall. "So then they have more negative experiences when they're at the dentist, because they're painful. So then they get conditioned or learn to be fearful of the dentist."

Summerlin is not only a dental hygienist at MCHD Dentistry. She also helped complete some of Randall's dental research.

She said it's important to work with her patients and do what it takes to make sure they feel comfortable.

"There's nothing that a patient has ever said to me that I was like 'Oh My Gosh, what am I going to do with that?" said Summerlin. "I may feel that I'm not really sure what to do, but just to reassure that patient that we'll get through it. As long as both of us are willing to put in the hard work, there's nothing that we can't get through together."

If you're in need of a dentist, MCHD Dentistry does provide dental care for anyone who is a resident of West Virginia.

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