Is that the sound of a drill? Sweating for the right reasons: Testing the effect of an acute bout of exercise on dental anxiety


Dental anxiety is a severe and irrational response to dental treatment (DSM IV, 2000). Up to 75% of adults have some form of anxiety in response to dental treatment (Singg & Belk, 2007), and 25% will avoid dental treatment until their pain outweighs their fear (Corah, 1988). While a number of treatments have been used to reduce dental anxiety, one that has not been examined is exercise. This is surprising given that exercise is a widely used treatment for anxiety reduction across settings (Landers & Petruzzello, 1994), and research suggests that acute bouts of exercise may be as effective as other traditional treatment forms (Broocks et al., 1998). This study examined the link between exercise and dental anxiety. Participants (N = 16) with non-clinical dental anxiety (Corah, 1969) were randomly assigned to either (a) an exercise (riding stationary bike - 15 minutes) or (b) control (sitting) condition. Participants completed measures of state anxiety (Spielberger, 1983) both before and after sitting in a dental exam chair while imagining they were having a cavity filled (during which a drill was activated and a dental needle was in view) Results of a 2 (condition) x 2 (time) ANOVA revealed a significant interaction, p < .03, partial η2 = .31 where anxiety decreased significantly in the exercise condition (CI95 = .40 - 1.19), but did not change in the control group (CI95 = -.24 - .54). In essence, it appeared that an acute bout of exercise helped to reduce the anxiety participants reported as a result of their presence in a dental procedure context, whereas those in the usual-care approach showed no improvement. If this finding can be replicated, using exercise as treatment for reducing dental anxiety has the added benefit of exercise also being associated with other health benefits (Carr et al., 2013).