fearA self-help guide designed to encourage young children to face their fears could help to reduce the number of children with phobias of the dentist.

Led by academics at the University of Sheffield, the guide uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to reduce children’s anxiety about going to the dentist.

More than a third of children experience fear of visiting the dentist, which can prevent them having regular check-ups and completing vital dental treatment.

The team found that 60% of children felt a lot less worried about visiting the dentist after using the guide, which is available in a paper version or online and includes a range of effective techniques.

Designed with children to help them work with their dentist, it uses methods such as writing a message to the dentist, squeezing a stress ball and choosing their own small reward.

Dr Zoe Marshman from the University’s School of Clinical Dentistry said: ‘Children who are scared of the dentist often end up with poor dental health and stay scared of the dentist for the rest of their lives.

‘At the moment, most of these children end up having sedation or being given a general anaesthetic for their dental treatment. This can be a traumatic experience for children and their parents as well as incurring high costs for the NHS.’

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded the project and the team worked with 48 children and their families at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and a community dental clinic in Derbyshire.

Dr Marshman added: ‘The guide was designed with children to give them choice and control to challenge commonly held unhelpful thoughts and provide information on dental procedures.’

The team plans to further trial the guide to determine the cost-effectiveness compared to normal treatments.

The research has been published in the international journal JDR Clinical & Translational Research.