Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Daniel W McNeil

Committee Co-Chair

Elisa Krackow

Committee Member

Robert N Stuchell


Distress tolerance can be defined as the degree to which one is able to cope with and endure negative emotional states. This study examined possible differences in levels of distress tolerance between adults with dental phobia and age-, sex-, and income-matched adults without dental phobia. Using 42 volunteers who responded to advertisements (n = 21, dental phobia group; n = 21, healthy comparison group), this investigation utilized self-report measures of distress tolerance, fear of pain, anxiety sensitivity, dental care-related fear and anxiety,, and depression. All participants were assessed with the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule (ADIS-IV); for the dental phobia group, the purpose of the interview was to confirm presence of dental phobia and note any comorbid anxiety, mood, or substance use/abuse disorders. For the healthy comparison group, the purpose of the ADIS-IV was to ensure that no anxiety, mood, or substance use/abuse disorders could be diagnosed. The dental phobia group had lower levels of distress tolerance than those in the healthy comparison group. Bivariate correlational analyses indicated that distress tolerance was negatively associated with anxiety sensitivity, fear of pain, self-reports of dental fear, and depression. Findings indicate that individuals with dental phobia may be particularly sensitive and less able to tolerate fear of pain, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Low distress tolerance, therefore, may be an etiological component of dental care-related anxiety, fear, and avoidance. Further, given the association between distress tolerance and fear of pain, it is proposed that in a dental phobia sample, distress tolerance and pain tolerance may be related constructs.