​A pioneering study will investigate whether cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could help reduce the worryingly high number of children who are afraid of the dentist.

Led by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the study has funding to carry out research.

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.'

She added: '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.'