Dentists express limitations in treating patients with disabilities

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Dentists express limitations in treating patients with disabilities


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A study by researchers in Iraq and the UAE has found that a significant number of clinicians feel that they are only somewhat able to provide ideal oral care to patients with disabilities. (Image: Karjalainen/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Fri. 13 January 2023


AJMAN, UAE: A study by researchers in Iraq and the UAE has found that dentists working in these countries feel ill-equipped to provide optimal oral care to patients with disabilities. The reasons include anxiety among clinicians and a lack of adequate treatment time and training. According to the researchers, targeted educational opportunities are required in order to improve clinicians’ confidence and ability to treat patients with disabilities.

A sample of 150 dentists in Ajman completed a cross-sectional survey that aimed to investigate clinicians’ competency in treating patients with disabilities and the factors that influence their delivery of care and perceived competency.

The majority of respondents (75.3%) had between one and five years of clinical experience and 46.7% of the sample group described their experience of treating patients with disabilities as minimal. Just 2% said that they had significant experience of treating patients with disabilities. The lead author of the study, Dr Afraa Salah, who lectures paediatric dentistry and psychology and behavioural sciences for dental students at Ajman University, confirmed to Dental Tribune International (DTI) that older dentists in the sample group also lacked confidence and experience in treating patients with disabilities.

Nearly three-quarters (73.3%) of respondents said that they would attempt treatment of patients with disabilities, but that they would refer the patient to another clinician if the therapy became too difficult. One-fifth of respondents said that they would not provide treatment and would instead refer the patient to a specialist. When asked how comfortable clinicians felt when providing treatment, 45.3% of respondents gave a neutral response, 32.7% responded positively and 14.7% responded negatively. Strongly positive or strongly negative responses were given by 4.7% and 2.0% of respondents, respectively.

A significant number of respondents (44.0%) felt that they were only somewhat able to provide ideal oral care to patients with disabilities, and 35.5% said that the time required for treatment was a concern. Concern about their ability to interact with the patient was mentioned by 38.0% of those surveyed, and concern about the treatment resulting in an injury to the patient or the treating dentist was expressed by 34.7% and 30.7%, respectively.

The authors wrote that “participant dentists’ limited treatment options for this population depend on their lack of adequate time and training, limited capacity to communicate with patients, patient adherence and the constant situational awareness of how to avoid unintentional injuries to patients that can lead to possible injuries to their clinical staff”.

Dr Salah told DTI: “I think that we need to establish and implement educational courses on treating these patients in the undergraduate programme, as well as through a required live course. In particular, I personally think that training on how to best treat patients who are on the autism spectrum would be very valuable.”

The study, titled “Dentists’ attitude towards dental treatment of disabled patients”, was published in Advances in Medical Education and Practice on 14 December 2022.

Editorial note:

In the study, the term “disability” was used to describe any physical or mental condition that affected a patient’s ability to function in a way deemed to be normal or which restricted the patient physically or prevented the patient from carrying out activities.

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