Solving oral health inequalities through research

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1. Please provide a short summary of your research, project or technology.

Priority Populations in oral health are people who experience the greatest burden of poor oral health and face the most significant barriers to accessing dental care. Priority Populations in Australia include Indigenous Australians, socially disadvantaged people, people living in rural and remote areas, people with mental illness, disabilities, complex medical conditions and frail older people. My research investigates the oral health of Priority Populations in Australia. To improve the oral health for these populations, my research uses population studies and statistics to understand how and why their oral health is poorer. My research highlights the diverse interlinked risk factors such as poor diet, unemployment, education, substance abuse, poor access to dental care and other factors influence overall oral health. My research findings inform intervention studies in which we implement programs to help these populations’ access oral health information and dental services.

2. Additional Details

My research on the causes of poor oral health among Priority Populations has both indirect and direct benefits for people living in Queensland.

My research can highlight factors that contribute to poor oral health and this can indirectly benefit Priority Populations locally and nationally. For example, I have contributed to research on the oral health of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) which has many long-term benefits to this population. Previously the oral health status of this group was largely unknown, but using qualitative and quantitative methods of investigation we now understand that the oral health of people with MS varies greatly between individuals and many experience confusing and painful facial neuralgias. Based on these findings we can educate dental practitioners to treat this population in appropriate ways and provide people with MS tailored information about keeping their teeth healthy that is specific to their disease.

Using population level research, I have developed and implemented a number of projects that directly benefit Priority Populations of Queensland. For example, in 2016-2017 I collaborated with a homeless youth community organisation to set up a mobile dental clinic. The dental clinic was established within the community organisation Brisbane Youth Service and is run multiple times throughout the year to provide homeless youth with free dental services. This model uses volunteer dental practitioners and is sustainable due to its integration in the community organisation. Based on the evaluation of this research project, we found that for every dollar spent, $4.50 worth of free treatment was provided. Other community organisations could learn from the research findings from this project and potentially implement a model like in Brisbane Youth Service.

Another project that I piloted in 2017 directly benefits disadvantaged and homeless adults. In collaboration with Metro North Oral Health Services, we developed a facilitated pathway for homeless adults to access public dental services. We piloted and evaluated this model, where clients of community organisations received an oral examination, oral health education and an appointment for free dental services in the same week. This method of connecting services to this population was successful with a higher attendance rate and many people accessing dental services who were previously unable to. 



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Nicole is an Oral Health Therapist and PhD Candidate at the University of Queensland. Nicole’s research interests are in public health and special needs dentistry. She has published work on smoking...

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