close up of woman having dental check up in clinic.  Image courtesy of Getty Images

An initiative to help 10 million UK adults overcome their dental anxiety has been launched in Cornwall – thanks to a fund helping to improve health and social care through the use of technology.

The Foundation for Effective Management of Dental Anxiety (FEMDA) has successfully bid to trial and develop a Dental Anxiety Management System – where patients from participating dental practices can access clinically designed apps that assess and help manage their nervousness. 

Led by Dr Angus MacDougall, FEMDA is the first to receive funding from the EPIC (eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) project, where health and social care professionals, academics and companies in the region are collaborating to help find the best uses of the internet, apps, and robotics in health and social care.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the South West Academic Health Science Network, the £600,000 EPIC Challenge Fund is managed by Creative England and is open to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in the region looking to engage in the digital health market. 

Angus MacDougall leads FEMDA - the first project to successfully bid for funding from the EPIC Challenge Fund

"The funding offers feasibility grants of up to £5K, and product development grants from £5–10K, to businesses that aim to tackle the ‘challenges’ identified by research led by the University of Plymouth. Solutions can be co-designed or individual."
Angus MacDougall

Explaining the need for the initiative, Dr MacDougall said that two thirds of UK adults are scared of visiting the dentist, which can bring about further problems in clinical care, and he hoped FEMDA would help to provide a solution. 

“If someone is scared of visiting the dentist, they delay or avoid appointments, which makes any potential underlying problems worse,” he said. 
“And when problems are worse, treatments can be more invasive, which in turn can heighten anxiety. It’s a vicious circle. Most treatment for dental fear is focused on the use of general anaesthetic or sedation, but only behavioural and psychological interventions provide long term solutions. Through collaboration with Professor Tim Newton, Consultant of Psychology as Applied to Dentistry at Kings College Dental Institute, whose work focuses in this area, FEMDA was born.”

The Dental Anxiety Management System is a progressive web app that patients download, and it assesses their dental anxiety and specific dental cognitions before offering them a self-help report based on their anxiety level. 

This data is then fed back to a central dashboard for the practice that shows the overall level of dental anxiety and, where patients have given their permission, gives patient specific dental anxiety scores.

Professor Ray Jones, EPIC project director, said: 

“It’s fantastic that the FEMDA team has successfully applied for a grant from the Challenge Fund, and it’s great that such an innovative idea emerged from one of our initial project workshops and will be trialled, and hopefully eventually used, in Cornwall and beyond. That’s exactly what EPIC is trying to achieve – connecting people from the health and social care community with local technology companies and entrepreneurs to find innovative ways of using technologies to best improve health and social care outcomes as well as develop the eHealth business sector in Cornwall.”
EPIC launched in May 2017 month and runs for three years. The collaboration includes the University of Plymouth; Creative England; Stennack and Oak Tree Surgeries, as members of Kernow Health CIC; Liskeard Eventide and Crossroads House Care Homes, as members of Cornwall Partners in Care; and the patients association.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The University of Plymouth is proud to be supported by the European Regional Development Fund. As one stream of funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014–2020, the ERDF focuses on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The main priorities involve contributions to research and innovation, supporting and promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of a low carbon economy.
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