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Background: People with disabilities and complex health needs have poorer oral health when compared to the rest of the population, with being able to find oral health professionals willing to provide treatment often identified as the main barrier. Despite this, our understanding of the barriers that oral health professionals face when treating these patients remains limited. This is crucial to overcoming the challenge of reducing oral health disparities faced by these vulnerable populations.
Aim: To provide an overview of barriers reported by oral health professionals in regards to treating patients with disabilities and complex health needs in the published literature.
Methods: Primary studies were searched for through PudMed, Ovid and Scopus databases using a search strategy developed by the research team. Articles were screened according to PRISMA guidelines and against inclusion and exclusion criteria.
Results: Eighteen studies fulfilled the criteria for evaluation, including studies using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. General dentists were most frequently included in the studies, but patient populations were highly variable, with the majority relating to people with disability. The reported barriers could be classified into three main areas: clinician, patient, and environment-related.
Conclusion: There are only a small number of studies reporting on barriers perceived by oral health professionals to impact on their ability to treat people with disabilities and complex health needs. While lack of training or experience was a factor underlying many of the reported concerns, studies raised concerns about clinicians being inadequately resourced or supported to provide this care. These are areas the dental profession will need to consider in order to address current oral health disparities experienced by people with disability and special health care needs.
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