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Spanish researchers looked at 183 children, aged 7 to 12, and their families. The greater the level of dentist fear or anxiety in one family member, the higher the level in the rest of the family, they found.
The investigators also found that the father's feelings about going to the dentist play a key role in whether a mother's fear of the dentist will be passed on to their children, according to the team at the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid.
"Although the results should be interpreted with due caution, children seem to mainly pay attention to the emotional reactions of the fathers when deciding if situations at the dentist are potentially stressful," study co-author America Lara-Sacido said in a news release from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology.
The findings show the need to involve parents -- especially fathers -- in efforts to prevent children from being afraid of dentists, and the need to get fathers to make regular dental visits and show no signs of fear or anxiety, the researchers suggested.
"With regard to assistance in the dental clinic, the work with parents is key," Lara-Sacido said. "They should appear relaxed as a way of directly ensuring that the child is relaxed too."
The study was published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry.
-- Robert Preidt
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