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How confidently do students address patients with psychiatric conditions in the dental clinic? A service evaluation in a UK dental school


Background Extensive literature covers the relationship between psychiatric and dental health, but little research explores the ability of dental practitioners to confidently address patient mental health. This paper explored self-reported confidence of dental students when addressing patient mental health in a university setting.

Methods Mixed-method approach involving a quantitative scenario-based survey and focus groups. Research participants were from years three, four and five of the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree.

Results Survey data showed low confidence among dental students. Focus group themes included lack of education, prejudice and rejecting responsibility. Participants suggested communication skills workshops to help improve confidence.

Discussion Self-reported confidence among dental students when addressing patient mental health was low, echoing wider literature findings. Focus groups highlighted an absence of patient mental health from the curriculum. Systematic reviews have recommended greater education around screening tools for 'assessing psychological comorbidity'. Using best practice, focus group data and psychologist guidance, we developed a communication skills case-based workshop for service improvement.

Conclusion Low student confidence likely originates from limited focus within the BDS curriculum. The research will be expanded into other UK dental schools to explore the confidence of dental students nationally and to evaluate and trial the developed workshop.

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Correspondence to Emma Elliott.

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Elliott, E., Sharma, S., Omar, A. et al. How confidently do students address patients with psychiatric conditions in the dental clinic? A service evaluation in a UK dental school. Br Dent J 228, 376–380 (2020).

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