Belfast homeless present oral health challenge

An assessment of the oral health needs of the single homeless population of north and west Belfast has identified significant problems among the patient group.

The research, carried out in response to the British Dental Association’s 2004 report Dental Care for Homeless People, discovered that 92% of those examined had obvious signs of gum disease. The mean number of decayed, missing or filled teeth (DMFT) was 16.6. Being older and homeless for longer increased an individual’s likelihood of having teeth missing or suffering from gum disease.

The study also highlighted the increased likelihood of homeless patients suffering from mouth cancer, with those surveyed 95 times more likely to have the condition than the general population of Northern Ireland. In fact, the study identified two individuals who were diagnosed with mouth cancer.

The assessment also discovered high levels of anxiety about dental treatment, with 27% of participants rated as dentally phobic (compared to 10% of the general population). Patients who presented with a high number of fillings and mental health problems were found to be significantly more anxious than other participants.

The most commonly reported impacts of poor oral health among the group were discomfort, toothache and difficulty in eating meals. Forty-seven per cent of those surveyed said that they felt either occasionally self-conscious or ashamed because of the appearance of their teeth.

Claudette Christie, BDA Director for Northern Ireland, said: ‘This research highlights the significant oral health problems of Belfast’s homeless community and the challenges facing dentists caring for them.
‘Caring for high needs patients requires a properly resourced dental service based in the community. This study underlines the importance of making sure that those dental services are properly staffed and resourced and draw on the skills of the other professionals working with homeless people.’

The research paper on which this information is based was published in the 23 June 2007 edition of the British Dental Journal.

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