Mentally Ill at Higher Risk of Poor Dental Outcomes

Dentistry Today


Researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) say more needs to be done to help improve the quality of dental healthcare for people who are affected by mental health issues after a study found that many dental professionals in Perth did not feel adequately trained to best support patients with mental health conditions.

While evidence indicated that people affected by mental health had poor oral health outcomes, the researchers wanted to find out more about what the key challenges were and how dental professionals could better support patients. The researchers then carried out 16 interviews with a range of dental professionals across Perth.

“People living with mental health conditions face many challenges, and we know that access to good quality dental healthcare is one of them,” said Linda Slack-Smith, PhD, researcher and professor at the UWA Dental School.

“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 healthcare that see and deal with these issues on a regular basis,” said Slack-Smith. 

The dental professionals indicated there were many barriers to treating people with mental health conditions, Slack-Smith said, including treating diseases that became advanced because treatment wasn’t sought early and because of the limited capacity of some individuals to administer self-care as well as an already overburdened health system.

“The public health system is hugely stretched resource-wise. And the private health system, which employs over 85% of dentists, is not always an option for people with limited resources,” said Slack-Smith.

“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,” Slack-Smith said.

The dental professionals surveyed also indicated that the system had to change to better support individuals, Slack-Smith said.

“Participants spoke about challenges of a system where the most vulnerable people, often with poor literacy, have to complete forms regarding eligibility and often complete them again the following year,” she said.

“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 healthcare,” she said.

“Clearly, though, we need to support the dental professionals that treat these patients and provide systems that allow them to deliver the best possible care,” said Slack-Smith.

The study, “Providing Oral Care for Adults with Mental Health Disorders: Dental Professionals’ Perceptions and Experiences in Perth, Western Australia,” was published by Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.

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