Patients affected by mental health at higher risk of poor dental outcomes
PERTH, Australia: A study published by researchers at the University of Western Australia has found that many dental professionals in Perth do not feel adequately trained and equipped to best support patients with mental health conditions. The study was published to coincide with the recent Mental Health Week and involved interviewing 16 dental professionals across Perth.
Senior researcher Prof. Linda Slack-Smith, from the University of Western Australia Dental School, said that while evidence indicated people affected by mental health had poor oral health outcomes, the research team wanted to find out more about what the key challenges were and how dental professionals could better support patients.
“People living with mental health conditions face many challenges and we know that access to good quality dental health care is one of them,” said Slack-Smith. “However, through this study we wanted to delve more into the key issues and insights on what could be done to address this, by speaking directly to people at the core of dental health care that see and deal with these issues on a regular basis.”
Slack-Smith said that the interviewed dental professionals found there to be many barriers to treating people with mental health conditions, including an overburdened public health system. “The public health system is hugely stretched resource-wise,” she said. “And the private health system, which employs over 85 per cent of dentists, is not always an option for people with limited resources.”
“The costs of accessing dental care can be prohibitive for socially disadvantaged adults reliant on public dental care, and often incurs a fee, which is usually uncertain until treatment needs are ascertained. There are also long waiting lists,” she continued.
“If more people with mental health conditions are to access dental services, our evidence suggests that more flexibility is needed in how services are provided and more collaboration between mental health and dental professionals so that oral health becomes integral to primary health care,” Slack-Smith explained.
The study, titled “Providing oral care for adults with mental health disorders: Dental professionals’ perceptions and experiences in Perth, Western Australia”, was published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology on 8 October 2018 ahead of inclusion in an issue.