New guide to promote dementia friendly dentistry across the UK

A new guide to help dental professionals incorporate dementia-friendly care into their practice has been published by the University of Plymouth.

The guide contains tips, ideas and explanations on how dental professionals and the wider team at surgeries can make their people, places and processes more dementia friendly.

Examples include:

  • offering familiarisation visits to the practice prior to appointments to help alleviate anxiety
  • avoiding shiny flooring (which can look like water to a person with dementia) or dark carpets (that can appear as black holes)
  • having regular dementia workshops or training with all staff
  • engaging with people with dementia and their carers to ask for feedback on what would make their visits easier.

Dementia Friendly Dentistry

The guide, which was co-written by Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise and Plymouth City Council, spawned from community engagement work within the University’s Peninsula Dental School student curriculum. A group of students were paired with Ian Sherriff, the University’s Academic Partnership Lead for Dementia for their module, and, following his workshop on dementia-friendly communities, opted to design a dementia friendly surgery.

The ‘walk through’ concepts inspired a dental surgery designer to rethink their designs and, drawing on this and the social care expertise, Ian and the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge Group commissioned the guide in full earlier this year.  

It will now be made available to dentists via NHS England.

Ian Sherriff said: 

“For over 10 years we’ve championed better recognition and care for people with dementia and their carers, and it’s all about how small things can make a difference. If everyone thought about a small thing they could do, it suddenly becomes a much more welcoming and understanding world for people with the condition.

“The dental guide is the latest work that the University and the Prime Minister’s Challenge Group has helped to influence, coming after the dementia friendly flying advice and guidance given to the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Rural Dementia Guide for town and parish councils that was endorsed by the PM himself.

“That the idea started with our students designing a dental surgery is fantastic, and I’m humbled by the way everyone has taken it on board, so I look forward to seeing this guidance rolled out in full.”

Professor Christopher Tredwin, Head of Peninsula Dental School at the University of Plymouth, said: 

“As a practising dentist myself, I know that dentists see people over and over again and see how they develop over the years. We are in a key position to spot a change in someone’s behaviour or demeanour and, if we consider that it might be dementia, look at how we can help. Whether that’s signposting to other care and/or changing our own practices, it’s important we’re as prepared as we can be, and that’s where this guidance comes in.

“I’m incredibly proud of the University’s community engagement work alongside Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise, and what our students have helped to achieve is fantastic.”

Sara Hurley, Chief Dental Officer for England, said: 

“Dementia is a significant health and social care challenge faced by our society. This challenge cannot be ignored. It can only be tackled through new approaches and understanding that draw on all parts of health, social care and the wider aspects of community life.

“All those who work in the field of dentistry are likely to be affected by dementia either in the patients we treat, as ourselves or as carers for loved ones. To ensure people living with dementia receive the dental care they require this Dementia Friendly Guide provides a valuable insight into providing compassionate dental care plus the special considerations needed to help people living with dementia to access dental services.”

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