£1.6m study to investigate if talking therapies can reduce dental anxiety in children

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and the University of Sheffield have launched a new study to investigate whether Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) could help reduce the number of children who are afraid of the dentist.

It’s believed one in three children are scared to visit the dentist, which can lead to poor oral health and further issues.

A team of dentists and researchers led by the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals have been awarded more than £1.6 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to investigate a new way of reducing dental anxiety based on CBT.

The study will involve 600 children from 30 dental practices and clinics across England and Wales. It will examine whether specially developed, child friendly resources for children, parents and dental professionals will help children complete their dental treatment.

Principal Investigator, Professor Zoe Marshman Honorary Consultant in Dental Public Health at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, said: “Dental anxiety is very common in children, and can lead to poor oral health, more tooth decay and extractions.

“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, and they may go on to spend a lifetime avoiding the dentist. 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.

“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.”

Professor Marshman and the team will be investigating a new approach, based on the principles of CBT which involves dental professionals, children and parents working together, using specially designed resources, to help understand why the child is anxious, give them information and choices about the procedures they may need, provide activities the children will find useful to help them cope, and make talking to the dentist easier.

The collaborative team of researchers from the universities of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam, Cardiff, King’s College London, Leeds, Newcastle and York, working closely with patient representatives, are looking to recruit 60 dentists to take part in the study which will start in September 2021.