Exploring dental students’ attitudes toward patient-centered management of dental fear

Kelly A. Daly, Richard E. Heyman, Michelle Shuster, Amy M. Smith Slep, Mark S. Wolff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose/Objectives: A patient-centered care (PCC) paradigm undergirds modern dental education. PCC is particularly relevant in the management of patient dental fear. The aims of this study were three-fold: (a) to examine the preliminary psychometric properties of an author-designed survey administered to explore dental fear knowledge and perceptions, (b) to assess how 4th-year dental students regard dental fear, (c) and to investigate the relationship between students' knowledge and perceptions of dental fear and their clinical behavior. Methods: In 2022, 4th-year dental students (N = 453) participated in a cross-sectional study. Participants completed a 16-item survey that assessed (a) knowledge and perceptions about dental fear, (b) common biases in patient fear assessment, and (c) patient management behaviors when fear is encountered. Exploratory factor analysis, descriptive statistics, and logistic regressions were run to address the study's aims. Results: Exploratory factor analysis revealed three factors, with the two strongest factors pertaining to beliefs about the importance of dental fear (α = 0.87) and self-efficacy in managing fear (α = 0.74). Participants indicated that it is important to assess for dental fear and rated their self-efficacy in ability managing it as high. Ratings on both factors slightly increased the odds of engaging in routine patient screening for dental fear. Students also displayed assessment biases commonly seen among practicing dentists. Conclusion(s): Results indicate educational gaps within the current behavioral-science training for dental students. Changes to improve advanced dental students’ appreciation of their patients’ dental fear are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-50
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dental education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • dental education
  • dental fear
  • patient-centered care
  • professional attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Dentistry


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