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Understanding factors that influence behaviour change talk in routine dental care to prevent oral health problems in young children

Project Description

Dental decay is a preventable disease that impacts significantly on children’s development and wellbeing. Tooth extraction due to decayed teeth is the number one reason for hospital admission in young children and in Greater Manchester, a 1/3 of children have dental decay by the time they start school. Evidence from health psychology indicates that goal-setting, planning and self-efficacy are effective components of improving oral health behaviours in adults, but this has yet to be explored in young children, where parents are key agents in developing good oral health habits. Dental care practitioners have a role in supporting behaviour change that prevent oral healthcare (e.g. regular and adequate tooth brushing and low sugar consumption). However clinicians report avoiding these conversations, feeling uncertain about techniques they can use to effect change and fearing disrupting clinician-patient relationship.

The project uses mixed methods to understand the potential for discussion of behaviour change within routine dental consultations and develop an intervention to help dental care practitioners to use theory-informed behaviour change techniques to have useful conversations with parents about preventing dental decay in their children. There are three phases:

1) To examine what behaviour change opportunities occur in routine care, observations of 30 dental practitioner-parent-child consultations will be recorded and coded for behaviour change cues and techniques. Semi-structured interviews with participants (parents and dental practitioners) will then explore factors that inhibit/facilitate behaviour change talk and identify capabilities, opportunities and motivations to support health changes.

2) A systematic review of the empirical evidence of interventions directed at supporting oral health behaviour changes in parents and young people.

3) Evidence from the two phases will be then be used to develop an intervention which will be tested in a range of clinical settings. There is scope for the student to focus this on a particular patient population where need is known to be high e.g. socioeconomically deprived communities.

Entry Requirements:
Applicants are expected to hold, or about to obtain a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in psychology or a related health or social science discipline. A Masters qualification at merit or distinction level in a relevant discipline would be a significant advantage, as would experience of using qualitative research methods to collect and analyse data. Candidates with experience in research in healthcare settings, including dentistry are encouraged to apply. Dr Peters is a stage 2 HCPC accredited health psychologist and, for candidates who have completed their stage 1 qualification, there is potential for to undertake stage 2 training alongside the PhD programme.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

This PhD offers training in advanced qualitative methods and provides an opportunity to use mixed methods within an applied research setting. Training in systematic research and meta-synthesis will be provided to support the first study. Patient and public involvement is central to this PhD, and training in approaches to PPI and wider issues involving social responsibility will be provided throughout the PhD.

The exact training programme will be determined by the needs of the student. The supervisory team work closely with clinicians and researchers in dentistry and additional clinical expertise will be brought into the team as needed.

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Goldthorpe J, Epton T, Keyworth C, Calam R, Armitage CJ (2019) Who is responsible for keeping children healthy? A qualitative exploration of the views of children aged 8–10 years old BMJ Open 9(5).
Chisholm, A, Philee A, Peters S, Hart, J, Beenstock, J. (2018) Public health practitioners’ views of the ‘Making Every Contact Count’ initiative and standards for its evaluation. Journal of Public Health
Hart J, Furber C, Chisholm A, Aspinall S, Lucas C, Runswick E, Mann K, Peters S. (2018). A mixed methods investigation of an online intervention to facilitate student midwifes’ engagement in effective conversations about weight-related behaviour change with pregnant women Midwifery 63 52–59
Keyworth C, Epton T, Goldthorpe J, Calam R, Armitage CJ (2018) Are healthcare professionals delivering opportunistic behaviour change interventions? A multi-professional survey of engagement with public health policy. Implementation Science
de Silva A et al (2016) Community-based population-level interventions for promoting child oral health Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. CD009837.

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