Why accessible dentistry is so important for oral health

Gaby Bissett talks to Oral-B’s Benjamin Binot and Professor Alison Dougall, of the International Association of Disability and Oral Health, about why accessible dentistry is so important in improving oral health. 

Why has Oral-B and the IDAH come together?

Benjamin: First of all, the issue is at scale for Europe. We know that approximately 66 million people in Europe are affected by disability. We know that one third of those experience gum issues and problems due to struggles with maintaining their oral health. This was the starting point for us.

For 70 years, Oral-B’s mission has been to get adults and children alike to achieve healthier teeth gums at home or at the dentist. We recognise the opportunity we have if we make both our business and products more accessible to everyone.

As we embark on our journey, we will continue to work with professionals and consumers to better understand where and how we can improve oral health outcomes for everyone. We see IDAH as really seeing expertise, knowledge and much better insights to really move forward and accelerate.

Alison: IDAH is an international organisation with about 8,000 members. They’re not just dentists – they’re dentists and allied health professionals. They may be speech and language therapists, hygienists, anaesthesiologists – everyone interested in disability and oral health. Our mission is to actually address oral health inequalities.

We know that oral health in people with disabilities is inequitable wherever people live in the world, including the UK. The sad thing that we see is even when people with disabilities have dental treatments, their outcomes are worse. They have more extractions so they end up with more missing teeth.

For somebody with a disability, wearing a denture, for example, is going to be harder – even putting it in and out. I think that at base we need to make sure that people with disabilities have higher expectations of what should be happening with their mouths. I think that dentists should have higher expectations of what is expected to give people equitable outcomes.

We’ve come such a long way. We have the technology now to do minimally invasive treatments. The key is we need to get prevention happening. We need to have people putting toothpaste on their teeth twice a day with a toothbrush.

For many, this is a struggle. They need a personalised education from their healthcare professional to help them do that.

We realised that Oral-B had the same mission and the same goals to make oral health universally accessible for everyone. It was a natural fit for a partnership.

Why is accessibility important in dentistry?

Benjamin: We are talking about a large number of people and we are talking about a very diverse population with different needs. We are also talking about a lack of education on many fronts. From dental school all the way to ones who are practising today, we need better education and appropriate messages. That’s what we want to achieve.

Alison: Lots of the work that’s been done with people with disabilities shows that they want exactly the same as everybody else. They want straight, white teeth. They want confidence when they smile. And they want to eat a healthy diet. They don’t want to feel embarrassed about their mouth.

I think that’s a universal standard of healthcare that everybody should be able to achieve. That’s a minimum. It’s about wellbeing, quality of life, self-esteem, relationships. The fact is there’s a diverse population and we need to develop a problem-solving attitude to how we address things.

It happens in lots of other care – people need personalised programmes. Medicine has moved forwards so dentistry needs to move forward to show that everybody needs a personalised approach to how they are going to use everyday products.

If they can’t provide themselves with that care, we need to ask what innovation needs to be there? This is so that they can be independent. We know that people who can independently provide their own oral health, have better outcomes.

What can the profession expect from this partnership?

Alison: The changes that I hope will take place is that people will start thinking about this. Research that has been done has shown that 80% of people can be provided with oral healthcare by a GDP using small reasonable adjustments.

What I would hope is that Oral-B will help us get the message to general dentists of the small things that they can do – of the disability-positive attitudes that they can encourage in their practice is using checklists. We want to see resources that practices can use to, say, prepare somebody with autism for their first visit to the dentist – in advance.

We want small things that can educate on the right language to be using. People who aren’t used to disabilities sometimes aren’t familiar with the right language to use. They can feel uncomfortable. We need to give people the courage and training.

The sad thing is they sometimes go through dental school and don’t have people with disability within their own family. They can then be very uncomfortable around people with disabilities.

This is a partnership between Oral-B and IDAH but we also want to encourage patients and dentists to partner together to problem solve. Communication is the key to that.

Shared messages but practical help – that’s what I hope would come out of this partnership. Little by little, it will help us to change the mindset.

Benjamin: With Oral-B and IDAH we share the same values on what we want to improve. On my side, what I’d like to achieve is to deliver on our steps.

For example, we want to work together with IDAH to create a positive practice training programme. This programme would be designed to train and educate practices on how to be more confident when it comes to their patients. There is lots to do to progress in that area. We want everybody to work together.

We are very excited and we want to make a difference in that area. I believe the partnership with the IDAH will help to accelerate this.

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