Researchers highlight crisis in dental care for people with severe mental illness

dental care for people with severe mental illness
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People with severe mental illnesses are falling through the cracks when it comes to oral health care, according to new research from the UK.

The study explores the reasons why people with severe mental illness—such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—struggle to maintain good oral health and access dental care, leaving them three times more likely than the general population to lose all their teeth.

The research by a team at the University of York, England, found a lack of integration of oral, mental and physical health care services, and of tailored support for accessing dental care to be contributing factors. 

The study—published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health—highlights the need for mental health care staff to provide support for good oral health. Dental care providers would also benefit from training to increase their knowledge of the needs of people with severe mental illness, the research suggests.

“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,” the study’s lead author Dr Masuma Mishu said.

“Our study addresses the urgent need to understand the reasons behind these oral health inequalities.” 

Study 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.”

The qualitative study involved seven participants with severe mental health conditions. A further 10 participants were healthcare professionals including dentists, caretakers, mental health nurses and doctors. 

Participants in the study also identified costs as a key barrier to accessing dental care. 

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