Non-dental primary care providers’ views on challenges in providing oral health services and strategies to improve oral health in Australian rural and remote communities: a qualitative study
OBJECTIVES:To investigate the challenges of providing oral health advice/treatment as experienced by non-dental primary care providers in rural and remote areas with no resident dentist, and their views on ways in which oral health and oral health services could be improved for their communities. DESIGN:Qualitative study with semistructured interviews and thematic analysis. SETTING:Four remote communities in outback Queensland, Australia. PARTICIPANTS:35 primary care providers who had experience in providing oral health advice to patients and four dental care providers who had provided oral health services to patients from the four communities. RESULTS:In the absence of a resident dentist, rural and remote residents did present to non-dental primary care providers with oral health problems such as toothache, abscess, oral/gum infection and sore mouth for treatment and advice. Themes emerged from the interview data around communication challenges and strategies to improve oral health. Although, non-dental care providers commonly advised patients to see a dentist, they rarely communicated with the dentist in the nearest regional town. Participants proposed that oral health could be improved by: enabling access to dental practitioners, educating communities on preventive oral healthcare, and building the skills and knowledge base of non-dental primary care providers in the field of oral health. CONCLUSIONS:Prevention is a cornerstone to better oral health in rural and remote communities as well as in more urbanised communities. Strategies to improve the provision of dental services by either visiting or resident dental practitioners should include scope to provide community-based oral health promotion activities, and to engage more closely with other primary care service providers in these small communities.