Dentally-anxious children to be helped using CBT in £1.6 million study

One third of children have a fear of the dentist – but now a study will look to see whether CBT can help to combat anxietyOne third of children have a fear of the dentist – but now a study will look to see whether CBT can help to combat anxiety.

Becoming dentally anxious as a child can often result in poor oral health and dental complications.

As a result, a new study will investigate whether dental anxiety can be alleviated using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Led by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the research is funded by a £1.6 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The study will look into whether child-friendly resources will help children complete their treatment at a practice rather than in hospitals under sedation or general anaesthetic.

Nothing to stop fear

Professor Zoe Marshman is from the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry. She is also the principal investigator of the study.

‘Dental anxiety is very common in children. It can lead to poor oral health, more tooth decay and extractions,’ she said.

‘Traditionally, children with dental anxiety have been referred by high street dentists to specialist services for sedation or general anaesthetic.

‘This approach does nothing to stop their fear. They may go on to spend a lifetime avoiding the dentist. Therefore a simple and cost-effective way of helping dentally anxious children is desperately needed.

‘If our study finds CBT resources delivered by dental professionals are effective, then children can be helped directly in high street dental practices without the need to travel for dental treatment in hospitals.’

She added: ‘This has the potential to help children who may otherwise spend a lifetime avoiding the dentist and ignoring potentially serious oral problems. It may also result in cost savings for the NHS.’

CBT approach

Involving 600 children from 30 different dental practices across England and Wales, Professor Marshman will work on an approach to work out why a child is anxious. The team will also provide activities to help them manage and make communication with the dentist easier.

The researchers are looking to recruit 60 dentists to take part in the study. It will take place in September 2021.

Those interested in taking part can contact [email protected] for more information.

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