‘Urgent need’ to address dental patients with severe mental illness
Patients with serious mental illness are falling behind when it comes to oral health.
According to a new study by the University of York, they are three times more likely than the general population to lose all of their teeth.
The research analyses the reasons why people with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, struggle to access dental care and maintain good oral health.
Contributing factors, the team say, includes a lack of integration when it comes to oral, mental and physical healthcare services. This includes limited tailored support for accessing dental care.
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The study involved seven participants with severe mental health conditions. A further ten participants were healthcare professionals including dentists, carers, mental health nurses and doctors.
One participant, who had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, said: ‘If it’s costing you 45 quid to go now…you know that’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday’s benefits for me – what shall we not pay? Shall we not pay my rent, shall we not pay my council tax? So I am not going to see my kids, I am okay with brown teeth and a bit of plaque. You know you’re asking people to make those sort of choices.’
Researchers concluded that the study highlights the need for mental health care staff to provide support for good oral health. In addition, further training for dental care providers could increase their knowledge of the needs of those with severe mental illness.
Lead author of the study, Dr Masuma Mishu said: ‘People with severe mental illness have poorer oral health compared to those without mental illness and untreated tooth decay is a common cause of non-psychiatric hospital admissions for this group. Our study addresses the urgent need to understand the reasons behind these oral health inequalities.’
Co-author, Professor Lina Gega, added: ‘During a mental health crisis, physical health can be overshadowed; this includes oral health which can lead to long-term dental problems, pain and oral disease.
‘We are calling for oral health to be incorporated into care planning for those experiencing severe mental health problems. Offering support such as organised accompanied visits to the dentist can help alleviate anxieties and overcome practical barriers around dental check-ups and treatment.’
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