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Meeting the needs of patients with disabilities: how can we better prepare the new dental graduate?

Abstract

Background Over the last two decades, the introduction of equality legislation has resulted in disabled people having improved opportunities and better access to services. Within the field of oral health care, the specialty of special care dentistry exists to act as an advocate for those with disabilities and it is recognised that there is a need to reduce health inequalities. To ensure the future dental workforce is able to respond to the needs of those with disabilities, education is key. This raises the question: 'are we adequately preparing future dental professionals to fulfil their obligations?'.

Aim To explore final year dental students' insight into issues of disability in order to inform the undergraduate special care dentistry programme.

Method Qualitative methods using focus groups were employed to address the research issue. The data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results Four main themes were identified: 'perceptions of disability', 'experience of disability', 'patient management' and 'teaching and learning'. The level of preparedness varied among students and could be attributed to: knowledge of disability issues; previous experience of people with disabilities; how education in the field of special care dentistry was delivered. Students identified the need for more structure to their teaching and increased exposure to the disabled community.

Conclusion The issues identified reflect current literature and highlight the importance of addressing disability within the wider undergraduate curriculum. Responding to the 'student voice' has the potential to tailor elements of the special care dentistry programme, in order to address their educational needs.

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Correspondence to Katherine E. Wilson.

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Wilson, K., Dunn, K., Holmes, R. et al. Meeting the needs of patients with disabilities: how can we better prepare the new dental graduate?. Br Dent J 227, 43–48 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-019-0462-9

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