We want to find out what parents and carers of children (0-12 years of age) think about the challenges and opportunities for looking after their children’s oral health during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are particularly keen to hear from parents/carers of children who have had a tooth removed during the pandemic, or who are currently awaiting tooth removal.
I am a Research Associate working on the Polar Bear Study, and I’m also a Trainee Health Psychologist. After completing my MSc in Health Psychology (Stage 1) at the University of Stirling in 2017, I undertook Stage 2 Health Psychology training in the NHS in Scotland. During this time, I worked in two main settings. The first was a Clinical Health Psychology service. Here my work included providing direct support to people with long-term conditions, and evaluation of services to identify opportunities for improvement. The second was a Health Improvement Team in Public Health. My focus here was on workforce development, particularly supporting health and social care staff to have more frequent and effective health promotion and behaviour change conversations with service users.
Felice worked as an intern on the Polar Bear study during the summer of 2019 and quickly became a valued part of our team. She carried out some fantastic work, including developing the “Healthy Smiles” action plan, a communication aid for dental practitioners to use to start conversations with parents of children at risk of tooth decay.
After spending much of my university experience reading psychological research papers, I was really interested in seeing the process of developing interventions through applied research. With a passion for both psychology and art and design, I was drawn to the opportunity, as it allowed me to take advantage of my creativity to translate evidence-based techniques from health psychology in an applied and illustrative way.
Encouraging children to develop ‘tooth-kind’ habits can be difficult for parents and dental practitioners don’t always know how best to help them. Therefore, it was important that the research team developed a comprehensive communication toolkit, which included a communication aid to accompany the online training course for dental practitioners. The aim of the project was to design and develop an action plan for parents of young children at risk of dental decay, to help dentists initiate more effective conversations about tooth-kind behaviours.
During my internship I was fortunate enough to work alongside Dr Sarah Peters and Dr Joanna Goldthorpe, drawing upon health psychology theory from existing literature and previous research conducted with patients and dentists. Collaboratively, we devised the concepts for the branding, logo, and design, deciding upon the polar bear as the face of the project.
The aid, the healthy smiles action plan, included information about tooth-kind behaviours and incorporated evidence-based behaviour change techniques, such as IF-THEN plans, in an engaging and easy to understand format. IF-THEN plans were chosen as they are a self-regulatory strategy that defines when, where, and how you want to act on a goal. Research has shown that these plans can lead to better goal attainment, as well as helping in habit and behaviour modification1.
Once a mock-up was created, focus groups with parents and dentists allowed us to pilot the healthy smiles action plan. These gave us insight into their experiences of discussing children’s health behaviours, as well as their views about the aid and how it could be used effectivity in routine care. This also emphasised the barriers to promoting dental hygiene and guided the formation of preventative action plans. Parents’ experiences then informed personalised IF-THEN plans, acting as opportunities to create and reinforce tailored goals. The focus groups also helped us to refine language used, imagery, and design details. Based on the feedback, we produced a final action plan to be used during routine consultations and at home.
The internship gave me the opportunity to get to know the nuts and bolts of empirical research, created network opportunities and afforded me with skills that I will apply to future professional endeavours. It allowed me to explore what an academic career might look like and gave me a chance to learn how real research problems are formulated and projects are driven to fruition. Because of this, I continued to work within the same research area for my final year project. Being at the heart of the developmental process has given me a real sentimental attachment to the project and I’m excited to see how the Polar Bear Study continues to evolve.
1. Gollwitzer, P, Brandstaetter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 186-199.
On the 20 February 2020 we filmed the training videos for the POLAR training at Windsor Dental Practice, Hulme, Manchester. Sarah P and Jo G enjoyed directing the filming. Here are some pictures and a bit more about what happened on and off set…