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Keywords:

  • cognitions;
  • dental anxiety and fear;
  • family;
  • negative dental experiences

Negative experiences, cognitions, and family variables are involved in the etiology of child dental fear, but previous research has frequently considered them separately. This study uses the Cognitive Vulnerability Model to explore the influence of negative dental experiences and family members on children's dental anxiety. The participants were 185 children who completed a questionnaire comprising measures of dental fear and cognitive vulnerability-related perceptions. Measures were obtained for 88 of the participants' fathers and for 97 of the participants' mothers. Cognitive vulnerability perceptions had the strongest association with children's dental fear (β = 0.40), explaining 14–21% of the variance in dental fear scores beyond that explained by other variables. Furthermore, vulnerability perceptions mediated the relationship between negative dental experiences and dental fear. Children's dental fear and cognitive vulnerability perceptions were significantly associated with those of their fathers (= 0.23 and = 0.40, respectively) and mothers (= 0.28 and = 0.35, respectively). Moreover, fathers' (β = 0.24) and mothers' (β = 0.31) levels of cognitive vulnerability significantly predicted the children's levels of dental fear. The Cognitive Vulnerability Model offers a framework to understand child dental fear. Furthermore, this cognitive approach may help explain why some children develop dental fear problems after suffering a negative dental experience and how dental anxiety is passed on from parents to children.