By Rosemary Frei, MSc, contributing writer

May 31, 2010 -- Only 24% of visually impaired people being treated at an eye hospital in the U.K. indicated in response to a dental-needs survey that they were registered with a dentist (British Dental Journal, April 2010, Vol. 208:8, pp. E15-20). And more than half (51%) said that not enough dental care information is available for those with visual impairment.

Researchers interviewed 100 randomly selected patients who were visiting the low vision aid clinic at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Fifty-five were female, more than half were older than age 75, and 75% were Caucasian. Fifteen patients had been blind from birth, and three had a visual impairment triggered by diabetes.

Twenty-four of the survey respondents were not registered with a dental practitioner, and three said they did not know how to obtain dental care. Furthermore, 88% of those who had used or were using dental services did so through the U.K.'s National Health Service. Fifty-one percent indicated a dearth of material that can be read by the visually impaired, and 26% said they would have liked more information on dental care in another format other than that designed for the visually impaired.

The survey respondents were significantly less likely to have regular dental checkups than were respondents to the 1998 Adult Dental Health Survey; the latter included a broad spectrum of people in the U.K. However, those with a visual impairment were more likely to brush their teeth two to three times a day than the reference group, and they had a significantly lower rate of edentulousness and a comparable number of sound and untreated teeth.

This is only a preliminary study, but it provides an indication that this population may have some significant gaps in oral healthcare, noted lead investigator Stephen Porter, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University College London Eastman Dental Institute.

"We would like to do a larger, much better-planned study to verify whether people with [visual impairment] truly experience barriers to receiving dental care, and, if so, what those barriers are and how they can be overcome," he told

An American dentistry professor noted that a larger study still might not be highly relevant. Harvey Wigdor, D.D.S., said one reason is very few dentists have treated patients with a visual impairment.

"I'm at one of the major teaching hospitals in Chicago, and in my 30 years of practice, I've only seen about 12 visually impaired patients," said Dr. Wigdor, chair of the department of dentistry and director of the general practice residency at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. "So the findings are not that relevant to most of us. Although I do agree that someone who's visually impaired might find it difficult to get into the system to find care."

Copyright © 2010


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