MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Researchers from West Virginia University, Indiana University, WVU-Charleston, and the University of Charleston are teaming up to address dental phobia and avoidance. Dental fear and phobia is a common problem that prevents many patients from receiving adequate dental care and treatment. People with dental phobia and those who avoid dental care have a higher risk of gum disease and early tooth loss and also suffer social and emotional costs.
This is a new collaboration for the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI) and Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ICTSI), which have been awarded joint partnership pilot funding for this project in the amount of $50,000.

These funds will support the design of a clinical trial focused on using a combination of psychologically based exposure therapy and a medication that enhances learning to reduce the fear experienced by some patients when visiting the dentist. The title of this project is “Enhancing Exposure for Dental Phobia using D-Cycloserine.”

Co-Principal Investigator Daniel McNeil, Ph.D., said dental avoidance is a major public health problem in West Virginia and elsewhere, with 5 to 10 percent of the population avoiding dental care due to fear and another 30 percent who suffer from significant anxieties when undergoing dental procedures.

“This project is important for the people of West Virginia because we have very serious oral health problems here as a population. Children, adults, and older adults suffer a disproportionate burden of oral diseases and related aversion to dental care. We have one of the highest rates in the nation of toothlessness in people over age 45. It’s a serious problem,” Dr. McNeil said.

The grant was formed between West Virginia and Indiana to encourage collaboration between the two institutions.

“We hope this is the first of many collaborative efforts. In order to be successful, translational research requires meaningful partnerships between researchers and communities. By working with the Indiana CTSI, that is what we are helping to create,” said Uma Sundaram, M.D., director of the West Virginia CTSI.

“The Indiana CTSI is pleased to work with our partners at the West Virginia CTSI. I believe this newly formed partnership will help expand the capacity of researcher-community teams with complementary skill sets,” said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Indiana CTSI.

The collaboration will also play a major role in the research.

“Each institution brings its own strengths. At West Virginia University, we have strengths in behavioral dentistry to deal with the problem of dental phobia and avoidance. Indiana brings strengths in genomics and prior studies with D-Cycloserine in the treatment of social phobia,” McNeil said.

The research will include patients who have avoided dental care for more than two years, allowing them to gradually experience dental care again, first through exposure to films of dental treatment and then with actual dental care, while prescribed D-Cycloserine, to help extinguish prior learned fear behavior. The medication, D-Cycloserine, has previously been used in treatments for height phobia, social phobia, and spider phobia. If researchers can prove that it will help with dental phobia, they will be able to begin to help alleviate the major public health problem of avoidance of dental care due to fear.

The ultimate goal of this research is to provide dentists with knowledge about using exposure and a medication they can prescribe to their patients to help the patients become accustomed to receiving the regular care they need.

The West Virginia Clinical and Translation Science Institute was created in 2008 to help address health disparities most commonly affecting Appalachians.

The Clinical and Translational Pilot Grants Program provides a mechanism for soliciting and awarding clinical, translational, and community engagement projects from concept to competitiveness for external funding. The primary goal of the pilot funding mechanism is to increase the number of clinical and translational investigators who are positioned to secure extramurally funded investigations.

In addition to McNeil, participants include: Andrew Goddard, M.D., co-principal investigator Indiana University; Bryan Weaver, M.D., D.D.S., WVU; Cristian Sirbu, D.D.S., Ph.D., WVU-Charleston; Aaron Metzger, Ph.D., WVU; Laura M. Romito, D.D.S., M.S., Indiana University; Gagan Kaushal, Ph.D., University of Charleston; Peter Milgrom, D.D.S., University of Washington; and Lisa Heaton, Ph.D., University of Washington.

For more information about WVCTSI, see:
For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
as: 08-31-12