The CALM trial protocol: a randomised controlled trial of a guided self-help cognitive behavioural therapy intervention to reduce dental anxiety in children

Zoe Marshman, Helen Rodd, Caroline Marie Fairhurst, Jenny Porritt, Bhupinder Dawett, Peter Day, Nicola Innes, Christopher Vernazza, Tim Newton, Sarah Jane Ronaldson, Liz Cross, Jennie Ross, Sarah R Baker, Catherine Elizabeth Hewitt, David John Torgerson, Hannah Ainsworth

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Globally, around 13% of children experience dental anxiety (DA). This group of patients frequently miss dental appointments, have greater reliance on treatment under general anaesthesia (GA) and have poorer oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL) than their non-dentally anxious peers. Recently, a low-intensity cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)-based, self-help approach has been recommended for management of childhood anxiety disorders. A feasibility study conducted in secondary care found this guided self-help CBT resource reduced DA and a randomised controlled trial was recommended. The present study aims to establish the clinical and cost-effectiveness of a guided self-help CBT intervention to reduce DA in children attending primary dental care sites compared to usual care.

This 4-year randomised controlled trial will involve 600 children (aged 9–16 years) and their parent/carers in 30 UK primary dental care sites. At least two dental professionals will participate in each site. They will be assigned, using random allocation, to receive the CBT training and deliver the intervention or to deliver usual care. Children with DA attending these sites, in need of treatment, will be randomly allocated to be treated either by the intervention (CBT) or control (usual care) dental professional. Children will complete questionnaires relating to DA, OHRQoL and HRQoL before treatment, immediately after treatment completion and 12 months post-randomisation. Attendance, need for sedation/GA and costs of the two different approaches will be compared. The primary outcome, DA, will be measured using the Modified Child Dental Anxiety Scale. Scores will be compared between groups using a linear mixed model.

Treating dentally anxious patients can be challenging and costly. Consequently, these children are frequently referred to specialist services for pharmacological interventions. Longer waiting times and greater travel distances may then compound existing healthcare inequalities. This research will investigate whether the intervention has the potential to reduce DA and improve oral health outcomes in children over their life-course, as well as upskilling primary dental healthcare professionals to better manage this patient group.

Trial registration
This clinical trial has been registered with an international registry and has been allocated an International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN27579420).
Original languageEnglish
Article number15
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2023

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