To understand the way people living with mental illness in an Australian community experience and define oral health.
People living with serious mental illness in the Victorian Community.
Qualitative methodologies were used in this study. Two focus groups and four semi-structured interviews were conducted. The data were transcribed and thematically analysed.
Participants generally valued oral health and recognized that attending regular dental appointments played a key role in improving their oral health. Participants felt that their mental illness overwhelmed their ability to maintain good oral health. Coping, dental fear, stigma, financial barriers and communication were identified as issues around utilization and access to care.
Experiences of oral health were both positive and negative. Barriers and enablers, extending beyond participant oral health literacy for oral health, were identified from the data, and recommendations around personal, environmental and clinical supports were made.
This is a valuable study that provides new insight into a complicated issue. Recommendations to create a supportive dental environment and direction to improve the dental experience have been made to make oral health more accessible for people living with mental illness. Recommendations have also been made for community-based mental health organizations to aid the improvements in oral health with this group of people, thus building a collaborative approach to support oral health for this vulnerable group.