Children who are scared of the dentist to be helped thanks to £1.6m pioneering Yorkshire study

Thousands of children in England who are scared of the dentist will be helped thanks to a pioneering £1.6m Yorkshire study.

A team of dentists and researchers from 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.

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Researchers say the £1.6m research will reduce dental anxiety using talking therapy with the long-term aim to improve the dental health of thousands of children in England.

Thousands of children in England who are scared of the dentist will be helped thanks to a pioneering £1.6m Yorkshire study.

Lead for the project Professor Zoe Marshman from the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry, said: “This is an excellent opportunity to find out the best way to help the children across the country who are scared of going to the dentist.”

Roughly 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.

Professor Marshman, who is also a consultant in dental public health at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, stressed the need to move children with dental anxiety away from being 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,” she said.

A team of dentists and researchers from 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.

Prof Marshman added: “A simple and cost-effective way of helping dentally anxious children is desperately needed.”

The four-year trail will involve 600 children from 30 dental practices and clinics across England and Wales.

The research will examine whether CBT 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.

The study aims to discover 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.

Pictured, Principal Investigator, Professor Zoe Marshman from the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry. Submitted photo

There is strong evidence to support the use of CBT 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.

“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 Prof Marshman.

Researchers say the study has the potential to help children who may otherwise spend a lifetime avoiding the dentist and ignoring potentially serious oral problems, while also resulting in cost savings for the NHS.

The trial is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

It will examine whether specially developed, child friendly resources for children, parents and dental professionals will help.

A team of researchers from the universities of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam, Cardiff, King’s College London, Leeds, Newcastle and York, will be working closely with patient representatives.

As part of the study looking to recruit 60 dentists to take part in the study which will start in September 2021.

In earlier developments

- Two thirds of children didn’t see a dentist last year, warn dental surgeons, who concern rising numbers will find yourself needing hospital remedy.

Official statistics show that last year lower than three in 10 youngsters noticed a dentist, in contrast with six in 10 the year earlier than.

Even earlier than the pandemic, dental decay was the highest cause for children aged between five and nine to be admitted to hospital.

Dental surgeons raised fears that this year would see much more children ending up enduring surgical procedures to have enamel extracted.

Matthew Garrett, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery on the Royal College of Surgeons of England said: "While it is not surprising the number of children who saw an NHS dentist dropped so dramatically in 2020, we must improve access this year to avoid long-term damage to children’s teeth."

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