Study to investigate if CBT can alleviate children’s dental anxiety

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children's dental anxiety
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A pioneering study led by researchers in England will investigate whether Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) could help reduce the worryingly high number of children who are afraid of the dentist.

Around one in three children are scared of going to the dentist, leading to dental avoidance, and poor oral health in the long-term. 

Now, a team of dentists and researchers led by the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry, 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, which will involve 600 children from 30 dental practices and clinics across England and Wales will examine whether specially developed, child-friendly resources for children, parents and dental professionals will help children—who would otherwise have to be sent to hospital for specialist services for sedation or general anaesthetic—complete their dental treatment at their family practice. 

The research team, starting in September this year, 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.

There is strong evidence to support the use of CBT, a talking therapy, for other forms of anxiety and mental health conditions, however there is currently very limited research into CBT delivered specifically by dental professionals—rather than by psychologists—for children with dental anxiety.

The self-help CBT resources were developed online and in hard copy form for children aged nine to 16 years and aim to provide dental information, suggest strategies for reducing anxiety, encourage reflection and support better communication.

“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,” principal investigator Professor Zoe Marshman said.

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