Having a mental illness should not be a barrier to effective dental care.
As dentists, helping people with mental illness is extremely rewarding. We are becoming more aware of how to compassionately treat these patients, and disabilities can range from mild autism to severe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Like most dentists, I feel very privileged to work in this profession and our practice was keen to give something back to the community.
We have a few nursing homes around our clinics so we thought we would do something for them. A lot of the residents suffer from some kind of mental illness and they are often not aware of how to take care of their teeth. Regular dental check-ups and oral care can improve people’s health and wellbeing so we took part in the Dental Rescue Day on March 20, run by the charitable organisation, National Dental Foundation. Our plan is to hold these days a few times a year—it’s a great way to provide dental care at no cost to those most in need.
After meeting with the National Dental Foundation, they were willing to support us and introduced us to patients who needed dental care and treatment. Most of these people had a mental illness and couldn’t afford the treatment.
Initially, the patients came to our surgery with their carers but our future plan is to go to their homes and do the check-ups there. Any patients that need more extensive treatment can then be referred back to our surgery.
The rates of decay and tooth loss among those with a mental illness is extremely high. Obviously, one of their problems is that they don’t remember to clean and floss every day. Part of our project is educating the carers on how to do that. That’s very important.
Not only do we want to prevent decay but also reduce the rate of gum disease. Quite often, these patients have teeth that are sound and intact but their gums become diseased and they lose their teeth. Fortunately, that is relatively easy to fix with normal check-ups twice a year, cleaning and scaling. In that way, we should be able to dramatically reduce the rate of tooth loss.
The majority of these patients are very frightened and nervous when they come to visit us. Having their carers present really helps and we need to be sympathetic to their situation. Sedation is often needed to complete procedures and that has to be conducted slowly and gently. It’s all about having empathy.
The response from these patients has been fantastic. We have been able to make a very positive impact on the quality of their lives and their day-to-day comfort. The feedback we receive from these patients is very authentic. Whatever they say, they mean it.
Dental health is an important part of overall general health and it is all too easy for the most vulnerable in our community to fall below basic standards of care. It is our privilege and pleasure to be able to offer them our assistance.
If you or someone you know has a mental illness and requires dental assistance, we warmly invite you to contact our friendly reception staff.