September 2020

Volume 37, Issue 3

Dentists’ perceptions of their professional roles regarding referrals within primary dental care in England: a qualitative study

Authors: Zoe Allen Janet Richardson Mona Nasser David Moles
doi: 10.1922/CDH_00016Allen06


Objective: To describe dentists’ perceptions of their professional roles, including the reasons why they make, accept or decline patient referrals within primary dental care in England. Basic research design: Qualitative semi-structured interviews, conducted via Skype, telephone or face-to-face. Transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis and typologies were developed. Participants: Ten general dental practitioners (GDPs) and 12 community dentists working in England. Results: Five main themes were identified: professional independence, the nature of dental care, the business of dentistry, obscure rules and ‘no man’s land’. This final theme described a notional gap between GDPs’ and community dentists’ responsibilities towards vulnerable people, who were perceived by participants to include frail older people, anxious and socially marginalised adults and children with high levels of disease. Three typologies of dentists were generated. ‘Entrepreneurs’ felt no allegiance to the National Health Service and no obligation to treat vulnerable patients. ‘Altruistic carers’ were committed to caring for exceptionally deserving patients. ‘Pragmatic carers’ tried to provide relational dental care (time and emotional support) for vulnerable patients but encountered discouraging systemic barriers. Conclusion: Dentists’ perceptions of their roles may influence whether and how they provide access to primary dental care for vulnerable people through referral systems. Access issues may exacerbate the oral health inequalities experienced by vulnerable groups. Based upon the findings, approaches are proposed that may encourage and enable the dental workforce to support vulnerable people actively to receive primary dental care. Keywords: Dentistry, Qualitative methods, England, Primary care, Professional identity

£10 single article

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