Many Australians who live with multiple sclerosis (MS) don’t receive adequate oral healthcare or access to dental services, according to the University of Queensland School of Dentistry. More than 2.3 million people live with MS globally, including more than 400,000 in the United States and at least 23,700 in Australia—and that number is climbing.
“The oral health needs of people living with MS have been under-researched. Our research found that, for many people living with MS, accessing dental care can be very complicated, and inequalities in access may lead to poorer health conditions,” said Kelsey Pateman, PhD, leader of the study.
For example, these patients may lack transport to and from dental appointments. They also face space limitations in the operatory. There may be financial barriers to receiving care as well. Plus, the participants in the study found dental care to be inflexible and not tailored to their individual needs, especially considering the effects MS may have on oral health.
“The physical symptoms of MS can affect personal oral hygiene. Changes to dental health can be caused by the progression of the disease or by medications taken to manage the symptoms. It’s important for dental professionals to offer tailored and individualized dental care when treating people living with MS,” said Pateman.
“We now need to look at oral health education that includes altered strategies for performing daily oral hygiene and advice regarding suitable diets for patients with swallowing difficulties. Future research should focus on enhancing access through transport, infrastructure changes, reducing the cost of dental services, and providing at-home oral healthcare,” said Pateman.
The researchers recruited 43 subjects with MS between the ages of 34 and 75 years and met with them in 6 focus group discussions. Data was analyzed using thematic analysis. Also, 81.4% of the participants had a government concession card and were eligible for public dental care, while 60.5% had private insurance for dental expenses.