Dental anxiety is a common problem in both children and adult patients. Because dental anxiety is abstract in nature, there are no units of measurement used to quantify the "amount" of dental anxiety in a patient. However, there are various ways through which a dentist can gauge the level of anxiety in a patient (and take corrective action) prior to, or during, the dental procedure.

Below are a few answers to the question "how is dental anxiety measured?" for the benefit of dental practitioners to-be in their first year of medical school.

The Use Of Dental Anxiety Rating Scales

A dental anxiety rating scale is a behavioral scale used to measure dental anxiety by assessing the patient's behavior before, during, and even after the dental procedure. The anxiety rating scale is often used to measure dental anxiety in children.

The scale provides four categories or levels of dental anxiety. Each category/level of measurement has certain behavioral characteristics associated with it. The first category is made up of children who refuse dental treatment and who are highly agitated by the thought of the dental procedure. This category consists of patients with severe dental anxiety and is referred to as he "Definitely Negative" category. The other three categories are referred to as Negative, Positive, and Definitely Positive. Patients in the "Definitely Positive" category are least affected by dental anxiety.

Measurement Through Self-Reporting

Self-reporting mechanisms can also be used to gauge the level of dental anxiety in a patient. True to its name, this measurement technique uses the patient's responses to determine how anxious he or she is. Through this technique, patients are asked several questions about various dental procedures. A five-point scale is then used to assess the responses given by patients so as to determine how anxious they are. Usually, the patient will fall anywhere on the five-point scale indicating their extent of relaxation or on one end of the scale or their level of worry on the opposite end.

However, the reliability of this technique for measuring dental anxiety is questionable, because patients can easily give false responses in a bid to hide their anxiety from the practitioner.

Physiological Measurement

Measurement of dental anxiety can also be done by carrying out an assessment of a patient's physiological reactions during the appointment with the dentist.

Physiological reactions commonly used to measure anxiety levels include the patient's heart rate, their muscle tension, and their skin temperature among others. Abnormal physiological reactions (such as very quick heart rate/very tense muscles) indicate dental anxiety in patients.