Australians Living with MS Lack Adequate Oral Care, Study Finds

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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Australians living with multiple sclerosis (MS) don’t have adequate access to dental care, a new study reports.

The study, “How do Australians living with MS experience oral health and accessing dental care? A focus group study,” appeared in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.

MS is an autoimmune disease that can cause extreme fatigue, problems with mobility and balance, sensory disturbance, visual disturbance, muscle weakness, spasticity, ataxia, pain, dysphagia, vertigo, respiratory dysfunction, and bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.

Some of the symptoms of MS can affect oral care as well. For example, paraesthesia — abnormal sensations such as tingling, pricking and numbness — and spasticity of the limbs may limit patients’ ability to brush and floss their teeth. Keeping dental appointments can also be difficult due to fatigue, dizziness, vertigo and limits on mobility.

To find out more, Kelsey Pateman at the University of Queensland School of Dentistry and her colleagues conducted six focus groups in two metropolitan areas (Brisbane and Melbourne) and one region (Toowoomba, Queensland); 43 people participated in all.

After analyzing the data, researchers concluded that patients with MS perceived dental care as inflexible and not tailored to individual experiences of MS, which contributed to their perceptions of poor quality and inappropriate levels of care.

“The oral health needs of people living with MS have been under-researched,” Pateman said in a news release. “The physical symptoms of MS can affect personal oral hygiene. Changes to dental health can be caused by the progression of the disease or by medications taken to manage the symptoms. Our study found that, for many people living with MS, accessing dental care can be very complicated and inequities in access may lead to poorer oral health outcomes.”

At least 23,700 Australians, or 0.1 percent of all inhabitants, have MS. Globally, the disease affects more than 2.3 million people.

“These patients often experience difficulties such as lack of transport to and from dental appointments, space limitations in dental surgery, and financial barriers to receiving care.” Pateman added.“It is important for dental professionals to offer tailored and individualized dental care when treating people living with MS. Future research should focus on enhancing access through transport, infrastructure changes, reducing the cost of dental services and providing at-home oral health care.”

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