Predicting anxiety during dental treatment using patients' self-reports: Less is more

Lisa J. Heaton, Charles R. Carlson, Timothy A. Smith, Ruth A. Baer, Reny De Leeuw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Background. Self-reported dental fear measures seldom are used in clinical practice to assess patients' fears. This study examined how well dental fear measures predicted anxious behaviors displayed during dental treatment. Methods. One hundred eight adult patients (54 percent female) in a periodontology clinic completed several paper-and-pencil demographic, dental fear and general anxiety measures before treatment. Dental practitioners, blinded to their patients' responses, rated their patients' anxiety during treatment on a series of 100-millimeter visual analog scales. Results. Higher Dental Fear Survey scores, younger age, more invasive treatment type and previous avoidance of dental care because of a bad experience all were predictive of greater observed anxiety. Neither self-reported nor observed anxiety was affected by previous experience with a particular practitioner or treatment. Conclusions. Dentists may assess patients' anxiety quickly and accurately with the Dental Fear Survey or a similar measure, as well as by asking patients about their current dental attendance and previous dental experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-195
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Dental Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This investigation was supported by National Institutes of Mental Health training grant 5T32MH015730-25.


  • Anxiety measures
  • Communication
  • Dental anxiety
  • Patient-dentist relationships
  • Practice management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Dentistry


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