Last year Public Health England reported that tooth decay was the most common oral disease in children and young people in England, and was the most common reason for children to be admitted to hospital between 2012 and 2013. Poor oral health can affect children’s abilities to eat, learn, play, sleep, speak and thrive, and is linked with other systemic diseases, such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and respiratory illnesses. In addition, dental treatment under general anaesthesia presents a small risk of life-threatening complications. Yet, tooth decay is largely preventable.
One of the reasons children do not attend dental clinics as often as they should is fear. But young people with special education needs can be helped to overcome fear of dental care with support of their peers and staff, as experienced by Rebecca Turner, Community Nurse in Learning Disabilities at Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust and Karen Green, Oral health Promoter and Nurse Specialist at Warwickshire Special Care Dental Service at George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust.
Rebecca Turner, Community Nurse in Learning Disabilities at Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust said: “In partnership with Karen Green, Oral health Promoter at Warwickshire Special Care Dental Service, George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust, a special educational needs teacher and members of a dental clinical team, we set up a ten-week self-help group programme to address the evidence and our concerns around oral disease in children and young people, to improve oral health care outcomes among people with learning disabilities.
“If dental visits are only for emergency treatment and pain management, then each encounter with the dentist is likely to be a negative experience, so the programme helped to address these issues. The outcomes were so positive that the programme is planned to be introduced in six schools for young people with special educational needs between 16 and 19 years of age in Warwickshire during the next academic year.”
The programme was titled: ‘The Moving On Group: Your Health, Your Future’ to acknowledge that the participants were going through periods of transition as they prepared to leave school, become adults, and make their own choices and decisions.
All members of the group were students at a local school for children with complex learning disabilities. Some were chosen because they were frightened of going to a dentist, while others were chosen for their confidence and ability to motivate other members of the group.
The programme was funded by Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust, the Warwickshire education department, and the George Eliot NHS Trust. It involved, creating trusting and therapeutic relationships between the individuals concerned and dental clinicians, decreasing the individuals’ anxiety, reducing the length of their appointments and ensuring they would need less intensive work from specialist services.
Self-help groups are effective in helping members improve their health by encouraging them to, for example, comply with medical and dietary advice, as often young people with learning disabilities lose their links with dental services when they leave school education and go into adult services.
Participants went on to understand the need to make decisions about their health, to become more independent and appreciate the importance of attending health appointments regularly for check-ups. All of the participants had improved their tooth-brushing techniques, which subsequently helps to improve their oral hygiene and other systemic diseases.
Karen Green, Oral Health Promoter Nurse Specialist, Warwickshire Special Care Dental Service part of the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust said: “The programme we devised showed that if the correct level of support for young people is given by health services and education departments at this transitional period in their lives it can have a tremendous impact on their futures and independence. Their accessing dental services has broken down barriers and should ensure good oral health for many years.”
If you have a Learning Disability or care for someone who has within Coventry and Warwickshire and need support with dental or health appointments, you should contact: For Coventry the Central Booking Service (CBS) on 0300 200 0011 and ask to be referred to The Learning Disability Team. For Warwickshire, contact the Community Dental Service on 01926 317702.
For more information about community learning disability teams, visit our website www.covwarkpt.nhs.uk and search community learning disability teams.