How Do We Measure Dental Anxiety?

It may be easy for you to say that you’re anxious about visiting the dentist, but it might be hard to say exactly how anxious you feel. And if you and your dentist can’t figure out how anxious you feel, they may have trouble recommending the right response to your anxiety. Do you need sedation? Or would simple relaxation techniques work?

This is where a dental anxiety scale can help: give you and your dentist a common reference point to measuring your anxiety and finding the right response. NuCalm is also helpful, because it can safely be used for people with no dental anxiety or high dental anxiety.

How Do We Measure Dental Anxiety?

The First Dental Anxiety Scale

Dr. Norman L. Corah reported developing the first dental anxiety scale in 1969. He didn’t name it after himself, but it’s come to be known as Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale.

It’s fairly simple: just four questions and five level of response. The questions ask people to tell how they feel when:

  • They have a dental visit tomorrow
  • They are in the waiting room
  • The dentist is getting ready to drill
  • They are receiving a dental cleaning

In response to these questions, people give one of five levels of response from “relaxed” (1 point) to “so anxious that I sometimes break out in a sweat or almost feel physically sick” (5 points).

This generates a numerical score from 4-20, with the goal of separating very anxious people from those with normal levels of dental anxiety. A score of 15-20 is considered severe anxiety.

Creating a Dental Fear Survey

As a basic assessment, Corah’s work is satisfactory. But some people objected to the fact that he was focused only on feelings, and didn’t account for how people acted in response to those feelings. To try to rectify this and other perceived shortcomings, Professor Ronald Kleinknecht developed the dental fear survey (called the DFS) in 1973.

The DFS includes many more questions–20–that are designed to evaluate three aspects of the fear response. First, it looks at avoidance behaviors related to dental anxiety, such as failing to make, postponing, or cancelling a dental appointment. Second, it looks at some of the body’s physiological responses to fear, such as:

  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

To a great extent, these are the manifestations of fear that people experience as fear. Being able to control these responses can cut off the fear response, which is why NuCalm relaxation dentistry can be such a powerful tool. You may experience the initial sense of anxiety in your brain, but it doesn’t turn into the physical fear response. And, as a result, your brain overcomes the fear, allowing you to get and stay relaxed.

Finally, the DFS focused on specific things that tend to trigger people’s dental anxiety, including the sensations of smelling the dentist’s office, seeing needles, hearing the drill, and more.

A Simpler Approach

The DFS became widely adopted because it’s a comprehensive measure. But the problem with comprehensive measures is that they can be bulky and time-consuming. The bulky instrument can be hard to administer to potentially fearful patients. To try to overcome this problem, researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland decided to modify Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale to be more functional. One of the most important changes they made was to simplify the language. One of the questions in Corah’s Scale is 41 words long. They reduced the question to just 15 words in the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale. And they added a question about needles to attempt to gauge people’s response to this important source of dental anxiety.

NuCalm Helps People with All Levels of Anxiety

It’s very important to assess your level of anxiety before considering sedation dentistry. After all, the procedure comes with significant risks. But with NuCalm, a drug-free alternative to sedation, it’s not as critical to determine your level of anxiety.

That’s because you don’t have to be anxious to benefit from NuCalm. Everyone can have a better dental experience with NuCalm, whether you’re anxious or not. If going to the dentist makes you unhappy, then NuCalm can make the experience more enjoyable. Even if you don’t have a problem with visiting the dentist, you may find that NuCalm has other benefits such as giving you energy or inspiration.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of using NuCalm at the dentist, please contact a local NuCalm dentist today.