Exploring Dental Students’ Perceptions of Mental Illness to Address Unmet Needs: A Preliminary Study

The Open Dentistry Journal 25 Apr 2022 RESEARCH ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/18742106-v16-e2112240



There is little information about dental students’ perceptions about providing care to people with serious mental illnesses (SMI), despite the significant oral health challenges of this population. Objective: This brief report aims to explore gaps in dental students’ knowledge and skills for providing oral health care to people with SMI, along with their attitudes about working with this underserved population.


Post-graduate dental students in the United States at a large northeastern university were asked to provide feedback and responses to 5 open-ended questions prior to an educational module about working with people with SMI, and 22 anonymous responses were received. Qualitative content analysis was used to code responses using independent coding and consensus meetings.


Dental students expressed concerns about working with this population and felt unprepared to provide services to them. Seven themes were identified and coded into three primary categories: Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes. Codes representing dental student knowledge gaps included mental health literacy and professional role clarification. Skill deficits were coded as an adaptation of dental care practices, communication skills, crisis management, and management of care. Attitudes were coded as beliefs about people with SMI.


Additional attention to mental illness in dental education could assist future professionals in their skills and knowledge to address the extensive unmet oral health needs of people with SMI.

Keywords: Underserved population, Oral health education, Serious mental illness, Post-graduate education, Qualitative content analysis, Oral health.
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