Dental Pain Sensitivity, Fear, and Avoidance: Linkages with the MC1R Gene Dental care-related fear is a significant and prevalent problem that limits the utilization of necessary treatment and ultimately impacts oral, systemic, and psychological health. Thus, work that addresses psychosocial barriers to dental care is important. The field of behavioral dentistry, which is ripe with opportunity and lacking studies focusing specifically on behavioral genetics, requires attention in order to completely answer questions related to such psychosocial barriers. Two main, long-term objectives will guide the proposed work: (1) to improve our understanding of psychosocial barriers to the utilization of dental care by elucidating mechanisms partially responsible for the development and maintenance of dental care-related fear so that they may be targeted in interventions that decrease treatment avoidance and, thus, improve oral public health;and, (2) to provide training and collaboration opportunities to the fellowship awardee in the areas of behavioral genetics and dental pain research, university teaching, and presentation of scientific results, opportunities that will add significant value to his graduate education and will promote a career of transdisciplinary scientific work. Drawing on previous work suggesting that there may be important genetic predictors of dental treatment-seeking behavior, and current theories in behavioral dentistry, this project will span the disciplines of dentistry, genetics, psychology, and public health. The proposed study aims to determine the nature of the relation(s) among the MC1R gene, and other identified genes, and factors that may be important in the development and maintenance of dental care-related fear and anxiety, such as dental pain sensitivity, fear of pain, anxiety sensitivity, and dental treatment-seeking patterns. This will be accomplished through collecting pain sensitivity and dental care-related fear data (via behavioral test and self-report means) from already- genotyped participants, and analyzing collected data with collaborators working in human genetics. The project will utilize theory-driven hypothesis testing in order to improve current conceptualizations of dental care-related fear, which ultimately will lead to the improvement of intervention strategies intended to bolster treatment utilization. The fellow's training will include collection and analysis of data, with collaboration with researchers from disciplines other than his primary area of study. Additionally, the fellow will benefit from training opportunities that would not otherwise be experienced as part of his regular graduate training, including didactic coursework in statistical genetics, one-on-one instruction in genetic data analysis, attendance of a summer institute in genetics research, pursuance of a university teaching certificate, and advanced training in conceptual and clinical issues of dental care-related fear. In all, the project seeks to provide data that will add to the current understanding of the etiology of dental care-related fear and may subsequently drive the development of interventions for such fear. It also seeks to provide additional graduate training opportunities that will promote a solid research career for the National Research Service Award fellow.

Public Health Relevance

Dental Pain Sensitivity, Fear, and Avoidance: Linkages with the MC1R Gene Fears and anxieties about dental treatment are a prevalent experience, and such fears are related to avoidance of timely and necessary dental care, which can result in significant oral, physical, and psychological health problems. This research will improve the understanding of how and why individuals develop fears about the dentist, which will allow for the creation of interventions that reduce fears and associated avoidance of care, ultimately improving dental public health, specifically, and overall health, generally.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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NIDR Special Grants Review Committee (DSR)
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Frieden, Leslie A
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West Virginia University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Randall, Cameron L; Wright, Casey D; Chernus, Jonathan M et al. (2017) A Preliminary Genome-Wide Association Study of Pain-Related Fear: Implications for Orofacial Pain. Pain Res Manag 2017:7375468
Randall, C L; McNeil, D W; Shaffer, J R et al. (2016) Fear of Pain Mediates the Association between MC1R Genotype and Dental Fear. J Dent Res 95:1132-7