TURKU, Finland: Dental anxiety has implications for dental treatment, since sufferers may delay care, negatively affecting oral health and quality of life. The underlying causes of such fear include exogenous and endogenous factors, and the use of tobacco products has been associated with high dental anxiety. Since many prospective parents quit smoking during pregnancy, some remain non-smokers and some return to smoking after childbirth, studying such a population allows examination of concurrent changes in smoking and dental anxiety. In such a novel study, Finnish researchers have found that those smoking during pregnancy, especially mothers, had higher levels of dental anxiety than non-smokers.
Aiming to study whether changes in smoking and dental anxiety occur together, the researchers made use of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, using data from parents since early pregnancy. They monitored changes in smoking and dental anxiety during pregnancy (from the 14th to the 34th week of pregnancy) and after pregnancy (until three months postpartum) and investigated changes in dental anxiety scores in stable non-smokers, fluctuating smokers and stable smokers at gestational weeks 14 and 34 and at three months postpartum.
They found that mothers who smoked throughout their pregnancies had higher levels of dental anxiety than those who did not or did so only periodically. The same trend rang true for fathers. For fathers, pregnancy was a time associated with increased smoking, but once the pregnancy was over, the rates of smoking decreased. While both parents exhibited increases in dental anxiety if they were constant smokers during the pregnancy, the rates in mothers were higher than in fathers. Parents who were stable smokers experienced more dental anxiety than those who only smoked for part of the pregnancy. Those same periodic smokers experienced more dental anxiety still than those who did not smoke at all. These findings are relevant to dental practitioners treating expectant parents who use tobacco.
The team acknowledged that, while the study used a large representative sample, because the participants only provided information after the 14th week of pregnancy, it was not possible to evaluate whether any participants had smoked prior to the pregnancy and then stopped. They also could not conclude whether the findings could be applicable to other populations, as pregnancy and childbirth are themselves anxiety-inducing events. The researchers found no systematic evidence that dental anxiety changed with changes in smoking. The findings also suggest that dental anxiety and smoking may share vulnerability factors, but this needs further study.
The rates of dental anxiety in adults globally have yet to be widely measured, but the researchers in this study cited a study showing that up to half of adults in Finland struggle with dental anxiety.
The study, titled “Concurrent changes in dental anxiety and smoking in parents of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study”, was published online on 4 January 2023 in the European Journal of Oral Sciences, ahead of inclusion in an issue.