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SHEFFIELD, UK: For sufferers of dental anxiety, the fear of dental procedures and check-ups can often lead to neglect of oral care, poorer dental health, and a sense of depression or shame. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield has looked into the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a means of addressing dental anxiety in children, over one-third of whom experience such fear, and achieved good results.
In the study, the researchers aimed to develop a guided self-help CBT resource to reduce dental anxiety in children. This fear can prevent children from receiving important dental care, so understanding the root of the issue is an important step in seeking to address the problem. Interestingly, research recently conducted in the US has found that dental anxiety may not only be caused by environmental factors, but also be a result of genetic influences. Irrespective of the aetiology, reducing the fear of dental visits in children is a valuable corrective action that can ideally lead to lifelong healthy dental habits.
In the first phase of the study, a qualitative approach was utilised to guide the development of the resource. The second phase involved children between the ages of 9 and 16 who suffered from dental anxiety being asked to trial the CBT resource. Available in hard copy or online, the CBT resource allowed a variety of techniques and tools to be employed by the children. These included squeezing a stress ball, writing a message to the dentist and choosing a small reward. The children’s relative levels of dental anxiety were assessed through the completion of questionnaires prior to and after using the resource.
In addition, the feasibility of this resource for children was analysed through a combination of interviews and focus groups with children, parents and caregivers, as well as dental professionals. The researchers found that the use of the CBT resource resulted in 60 per cent of the children feeling less worried about visiting the dentist. Additionally, the participating children were found to have a corresponding increase in health-related quality of life after their use of the CBT resource. The study findings will be employed in the development of a more definitive trial to investigate the treatment success and cost-effectiveness of this resource.
The study, titled “Development and testing of a cognitive behavioral therapy resource for children’s dental anxiety”, was published online on 1 November in JDR Clinical and Translational Research.