Interview with Lisa Allen about food insecurity and dentists

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Research suggests UK government can help dentists help hungry patients

More and more families are finding themselves in situations of food insecurity, and recent research suggests dentists may be uniquely positioned to help—if they are supported in doing so. (Image: etorres/Shutterstock)

More than 11 million people in the United Kingdom, have reported food insecurity over a 12 month period according to The Trussel Trust. Dental clinicians are in a unique position to both understand the connection between food insecurity and oral health and provide help to patients. In April, Dental Tribune International reported on a study exploring the role dental professionals play in identifying patients in need and providing support, as well as ways to improve their training in this regard. We recently spoke with the study’s principal investigator, Lisa Allen, who is a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) academic clinical fellow at the University of Liverpool, about the support dental professionals need and how the researchers are applying the study’s findings.

Ms Allen, could you share with our readers the team’s background and motivation to conduct this initial exploration of the connection between dental clinicians and food insecurity in patients?
Our research team consisted of me, Dr Sondos Albadri, who is professor of paediatric dentistry and vice dean for research and postgraduate studies at the School of Dentistry of the University of Liverpool, and Dr Teslimat Ajeigbe, an NIHR academic clinical fellow and dental core trainee at the University of Liverpool.

As a group of clinicians, we are all familiar with patients and families presenting from areas of high need who may attend with dental health problems relating to food insecurity. Given that up to 17% of the UK population are currently believed to be experiencing this, we felt it important to explore how dental professionals understand the relationship between food insecurity and oral health and how we can better support our communities.

Your study found that clinicians currently seem to lack confidence in addressing the issues faced by patients experiencing food insecurity. What support would you like to see from the government for helping clinicians specifically to support their patients?
In order to tackle health inequalities and give the profession greater confidence in doing so, there should be support that provides sustained, viable and equitable access to National Health Service dental services. A preventive model of dentistry could promote good oral health and allow the development of skills within the dental team to support the health needs of our local population.

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers about the research results that you found surprising or about other projects you or your team are working on?
This research project was a pilot study, so it is difficult to generalise findings across the profession. Although the topic of food insecurity was a relatively unfamiliar area to our sample, we were pleased that the majority of our respondents recognised the need for further training in this area. Moving forward, we aim to explore how additional support and training could be implemented, specifically considering the views of those within the population with lived experience. We are currently undertaking some patient and public involvement work as a result.

Editorial note:

The study, titled “Food insecurity and the dental team: A pilot study to explore opinions”, was published online on 18 March 2024 in BDJ Open.

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