Background. The Cognitive Vulnerability Model proposes that perceptions of certain characteristics of a situation are critical determinants of fear. Although the model is applicable to all animal, natural environment and situational fears, it has not yet been applied specifically to dental fear. This study therefore aimed to examine the association between dental fear and perceptions of dental visits as uncontrollable, unpredictable and dangerous. Methods. The study used a clustered, stratified national sample of Australians aged 15 years and over. All participants were asked in a telephone interview survey to indicate their level of dental fear. Participants who received an oral examination were subsequently provided with a self-complete questionnaire in which they rated their perceptions of uncontrollability, unpredictability and dangerousness associated with dental visiting. Results. 3937 participants were recruited. Each of the three vulnerability-related perceptions was strongly associated with the prevalence of high dental fear. In a logistic regression analysis, uncontrollability and dangerousness perceptions were significantly associated with high dental fear after controlling for age and sex. However, unpredictability perceptions did not have a statistically significant independent association with dental fear after controlling for all other variables. Conclusion. Results are mostly consistent with the Cognitive Vulnerability Model of the etiology of fear, with perceptions of uncontrollability, unpredictability and dangerousness each showing a strong bivariate relationship with high dental fear prevalence. However, more extensive measures of vulnerability perceptions would be valuable in future investigations.
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