Aim : This aim of this study was to explore the experiences of registered Oral Heath Therapists* in providing diet and nutrition education to patients.
Method: The study design was guided by a qualitative description methodology which allowed the collection of data to be the authentic experiences and knowledge of participants participating in focus groups. Focus groups were conducted between September 2016 and July 2017 in city, regional and rural locations in three states of Australia. The requirement for inclusion in the focus groups was the participants must be in clinical practice in either a part time or full-time capacity. Seven open-ended questions guided discussion allowing personal perspective, experience and expertise and external influences to emerge framed in a clinical context. De identified data was entered in QSR International’s NVivo 11, analysed and sorted into key emergent themes.
Results: Participants agreed that prevention, including diet and nutrition education was an underpinning tenet of any treatment plan and improving patient outcomes. They established that in the current climate of dietary related disease burdens, diet and nutrition should be discussed with patients at each appointment. Further discussion indicated this wasn’t routine practice. Barriers to providing diet and nutrition education were also similar across practice types and location such as patient’s attitudes and organisational constraints with participants acknowledging changing long -term dietary behaviours is challenging. Confidence was identified as crucial to deliver diet and nutrition education and confidence levels varied with age, experience, undergraduate education and a supportive practice environment.
Conclusion: Both undergraduate and post graduate education needs to engage and reinforce clinician commitment to raise awareness of poor dietary choices and promote healthy eating as part of contemporary preventive care in the dental practice. The fundamental precedent that oral health is part of general wellness must be promoted (Franks, Wallace et al: 2018) as part of a preventive oral care plan.
* 1 Oral Health Therapists are tertiary educated, registerable practice category of the dental team, with the combined skill set of both a dental therapist and a dental hygienist integrated into a single professional stream.