New research has highlighted an urgent need to improve training and support for GPs so they can better meet the dental health needs of patients in rural areas.
The research, carried out by the University of Tasmania’s Centre for Rural Health, was published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week and captured the current state of dental care in remote communities.
Postdoctoral Fellow in Oral Health Dr Ha Hoang said rural and remote Australians had poorer oral health outcomes and dental care access than city residents.
“Rural areas in Australia have experienced an uneven distribution of dental practitioners,” Dr Hoang said.
“Given the lack of a resident dentist and visiting oral health services, rural people present to their GPs with oral health problems for advice and treatment.”
Researchers Dr Hoang, Associate Professors Tony Barnett and Len Crocombe and Dr Jackie Stewart interviewed 30 GPs from Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland over one year with four major themes emerging.
The study found that on average, GPs saw twelve patients per month with problems ranging from toothaches, abscesses, oral infections and dentures to trauma.
The findings also revealed that while GPs could prescribe a variety of short term treatments, patients would not visit a dentist even when advised, discouraged by travel costs, and a lack of health care concessions. The absence of local resident dentists or visits by mobile dental services were also identified as deterrents.
“Rural oral health could be improved by a number approaches,” said Dr Hoang.
“Visiting dental services for remote residents, strengthening community engagement with oral health promotion and prevention activities, better communication pathways between dentists and GPs, and building the capacity of GPs through regular training.”
Some GPs acknowledged they were not confident when dealing with oral health problems because they lacked training in dental care.
The findings can be found on the Medical Journal of Australia website.
(Source: University of Tasmania, Medical Journal of Australia)