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UTRGV’s Seligman awarded grant to find ways to ease dental anxiety in children

Dr. Laura Seligman (at left), UTRGV associate professor of Psychological Science, and Dr. Liza Talavera-Garza, Psychological Science lecturer

Dr. Laura Seligman (at left), UTRGV associate professor of Psychological Science, and Dr. Liza Talavera-Garza, Psychological Science lecturer, are working on a study aimed at developing treatments that alleviate dental anxiety in children, making it possible for children and adolescents to get regular dental care and feel comfortable when visiting the dentist. Seligman and her research team were awarded a grant for $217,950 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to address the issue. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Cheryl Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – AUG. 28, 2017 – Dr. Laura Seligman, UTRGV professor in the Department of Psychological Science, has been awarded a grant for $217,950 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to address dental anxiety in children.

Seligman’s co-principal investigator on the project is Dr. Thomas Ollendick, University Distinguished Professor and director of the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech University.

“We are so pleased to have received this grant to address the serious yet often overlooked issue of dental phobia in youth, a fear that can result in lifelong health complications,” Seligman said. “The goal of the project is to do the preparatory work to conduct a clinical trial applying what we know about how to treat other phobias in childhood to dental phobia.”

Dental phobia is associated with poor dental health, often resulting in social problems such as embarrassment about the physical appearance of teeth and, in some cases, difficulty eating a varied, nutritious diet.

In addition to researchers at UTRGV and VT, Seligman and Ollendick’s team includes researchers and dental health professionals from The University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, Los Angeles, and health professionals in the Rio Grande Valley.

Over the next year, the researchers will plan and prepare for a clinical trial – applying what is known about methods to treat other childhood phobias – on the effectiveness of exposure therapy as a viable treatment option for dental phobia in children.

In collaboration with the team, Seligman and Dr. Liza Talavera-Garza, UTRGV grant project director, will create the procedures and training manuals needed to conduct the clinical trial.

“We hope to establish that effective treatment can be delivered by hygienists in the dental office,” Talavera-Garza said. “Our goal is to find an effective way to decrease both anxiety and phobic avoidance in youth, while giving treatment providers a cost-effective option that will be more acceptable to children and their parents.”

The researchers said their knowledge of the variety of causes of dental phobia is somewhat well developed; however, less is known about how to treat it. Their goal is to develop treatments that alleviate anxiety, making it possible for children and adolescents to get regular dental care and to feel good when visiting the dentist.

“Ultimately, we want to help families get the treatment they need when and where they need it – in their dentist’s office – and to help providers feel that they have options when working with youth whose anxiety interferes with their dental health,” Seligman said.

After the year of preparation provided in the HHS grant, clinical trials will be established in Rio Grande Valley communities.

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Cheryl.Taylor@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Senior Writer / 956-882-8787

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UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742