Objective: To assess the association between dental anxiety and caries experience from late childhood through adolescence and into early adulthood (12, 15 and 18 years old, respectively).
Methods: A prospective cohort study was conducted among a population-representative sample of Chinese in Hong Kong. A baseline survey was conducted at age 12 and follow-up assessments were completed at ages 15 and 18. Caries experience was assessed as the number of decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT). Dental anxiety was assessed using the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS). Participants’ socio-economic status and oral health-related behaviours were ascertained using a self-complete questionnaire. Negative binomial regression was used to explore the association between dental anxiety and subsequent caries status, controlling for other factors.
Results: At baseline, 668 children participated; 279 (41.8%, comprising 57.0% females) completed all three phases of data collection. MDAS scores at age 18 were lower than at age 12. Caries experience increased as participants aged. At age 15 and 18, females had higher MDAS and DMFT scores than males. Reported frequency of snacking between meals was associated with MDAS scores at age 18. In regression analyses, dental anxiety at age 12 was not significantly associated with dental caries experience at age 15, controlling for socio-demographic and oral-health behaviour factors at age 12. Likewise, dental anxiety at age 15 was not significantly associated with dental caries experience at age 18, controlling for the same factors at age 15.
Conclusion: Dental anxiety assessed by MDAS in late childhood and adolescence appears not to predict dental caries experience later in life in this population.