Researchers attempting to isolate the cause of dental anxiety have shown that the sound of the dental drill causes a distinct response in people, even those without dental anxiety. They conclude that this shows the dental drill likely has a special role in causing dental anxiety. However, the analysis is preliminary, and it remains to be seen how strong their conclusions will prove.

What the Researchers Did

According to their paper presentation at the Society for Neuroscience annual convention, researchers from Japan surveyed 34 people (21 women and 13 men), aged 19 to 49 about their fear of the dentist. They then divided these people into two groups based on whether they had a high or low level of fear of the dentist.

They then put these people in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI), which can track activity in different parts of the brain, and played them a series of sounds, including the dental drill and a number of neutral sounds.

The fMRI showed that when exposed to dental sounds, the superior temporal gyri responded more than when they heard neutral sounds.

However, the fMRI showed that people in the high-fear group had more intense activity in a region of the brain called the left caudate nucleus.

How the Researchers Interpreted Results

Researchers interpreted these results very strangely. They noted that the caudate nucleus plays a role in learning and remembering the sounds.

Although this is a possible explanation for activity in the caudate nucleus, this is a very complex region of the brain that plays roles in many brain activities. In addition to learning and memory, the caudate nucleus functions in goal-directed action, making complex cost-benefit analyses, and inhibition.

Instead of learning and remembering the sounds, the caudate nucleus may be activated to help people plan an escape from a frightening stimulus, help them decide whether they should run or stay, or just in suppressing a terror reaction.

As presented research that has not yet undergone peer review for publication, this study remains rough, and we should avoid making too many conclusions until the study finds its way into print.

We Can Help with Dental Anxiety

Regardless of the core cause of dental anxiety, we know that sedation dentistry works to help people overcome anxiety to get the dental procedures they want and need.

If dental anxiety is preventing you from getting dental treatment, please contact My Hills Dentist in the Baulkham Hills area of Sydney.