News Release 

Is your child afraid of the dentist? CBT could help

University of Sheffield

Grant Announcement

  • Around one in three children are scared of going to the dentist and end up with poor oral health, more toothache, dental infections and tooth decay as a result
  • Children with dental anxiety are frequently referred to specialist services for general anaesthetic which has additional challenges
  • The new study, led by the University of Sheffield, will involve 600 children from 30 dental practices across England and Wales
  • Researchers will investigate a new way of reducing dental anxiety based on cognitive behavioural therapy.

A pioneering study led by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals 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 end up with poor oral health, more toothache, dental infections and tooth decay as a result.

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 complete their dental treatment at their family practice rather than being sent to hospital for specialist services for sedation or general anaesthetic.

Principal Investigator, Professor Zoe Marshman from the University of Sheffield's School of Clinical Dentistry and 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."

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.

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 hard copy for children aged nine to 16 years and aim to help children 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," said Professor Marshman.

"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."

The four-year CALM trial: the clinical and cost-effectiveness of a guided self-help cognitive behavioural therapy intervention to reduce dental anxiety in children, is funded by the National Institute for Health Research and will be overseen by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

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.

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Dental professionals or practices interested in taking part can contact z.marshman@sheffield.ac.uk for more information.

Notes to editors

Media contact:
For more information please contact:
Amy Huxtable,
Media Relations Officer,
The University of Sheffield,
0114 222 9859,
a.l.huxtable@sheffield.ac.uk

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The National Institute for Health Research

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

    The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

    This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care.
    http://www.nihr.ac.uk/patientdata

    This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment Programme (NIHR131805)

    Department of Health Disclaimer

    The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the HTA Programme, NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health.

    Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

    Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is one of the UK's largest NHS Foundation Trusts and one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals. We have over 18,000 staff caring for over two million patients each year at our five hospitals and in the local community:

  • The Royal Hallamshire Hospital
  • The Northern General Hospital
  • Charles Clifford Dental Hospital
  • Weston Park Cancer Hospital
  • Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital

    We offer a full range of local hospital and community health services for people in Sheffield as well as specialist hospital services to patients from further afield in our many specialist centres. The Trust is recognised internationally for its work in neurosciences, spinal injuries, renal, cancer, transplantation, neurosciences and orthopaedics.

    Thanks to the hard work and commitment of our staff and volunteers, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been given an overall rating of 'Good' by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with many services rated as 'Outstanding'.

    This means the Trust is one of a small number to have achieved a Good or Outstanding rating in every one of the five domains which the Care Quality Commission use to rate a NHS organisation: Safe, Caring, Responsive, Well led, Effective

    The Trust is a recognised leader in medical research for bone, cardiac, neurosciences and long term conditions such as diabetes and lung disease. We also play a key role in the training and education of medical, nursing and dental students with our academic partners, including the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The Trust is a recognised leader in healthcare innovation and is host to a number of national projects Devices for Dignity, Yorkshire and Humber Genomics Centre as well as being a partner in the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System and the National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine.

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