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Oral health care related perceptions and experiences of homeless adults in Vancouver's downtown east-side Mago, Anjali


Background: Oral health problems are particularly prevalent among homeless adults in Vancouver. The extensive unmet oral health care needs (both clinically evaluated and self-reported) indicate the importance to understand homeless adults’ perceptions and attitudes towards use of oral health care to improve their oral health. The purpose of this research was to explore homeless adults’ perspectives on oral health and oral health care services through their experiences with the access to and use of oral health care services. Methods: A qualitative approach was taken and 25 semi-structured interviews were conducted with homeless adults in Vancouver in regards to their self-perceived oral health status and to their experiences of access to and use of oral health care services. Results: For the majority of the homeless participants, maintaining good oral health was important while they perceived their oral health to be poor. Participants reported a high need in oral health care and that many past experiences with oral health services were disappointing. As such, they described their unwillingness to visit dentists regularly because they feared that they would not receive appropriate oral health care services. In addition to the cost of care and lack of adequate public oral health services, the main concern of homeless adults’ were the indifferent attitude by dentists, and lack of information about the available oral health care resources. Conclusion: The study participants ranked oral health as important and perceived high need of oral health care services. The past experiences with dentists influence the participants’ behavior towards future use of oral health services. The study results suggest that the current state of affairs between oral health service providers and homeless adults is a divisive one filled with distrust, disrespect, and at times professional irresponsibility.

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