Is Dichotomization into Regular versus Irregular Dental Attenders Valid? A Qualitative Analysis

van der Zande, M.M., Exley, C.E., Freeman, R., Thetford, Clare orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2188-3052 and Harris, R.V. (2022) Is Dichotomization into Regular versus Irregular Dental Attenders Valid? A Qualitative Analysis. JDR Clinical & Translational Research . pp. 1-12. ISSN 2380-0852

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To discover whether dental visiting behavior can be understood as a dichotomy of planned versus problem based, or whether there were a range of different types of understanding and patient behavior, recognizable as patterns of dental visiting behavior.

Secondary analysis drawing on 2 qualitative studies of patients’ accounts of dental attendance and oral health, with 1) opportunistic interviews with people attending urgent dental care services ( n = 43; including 19 with follow-up) and 2) home-based, in-depth interviews with people attending a dental practice with a mixture of improved or deteriorated/poor periodontal health ( n = 25).

Four distinguishable patterns of dental visiting were identified in patients’ accounts: Accepting and Active Monitoring, as well as Ambivalent and Active Problem-based dental visiting behavior. Individuals’ patterns were relatively stable over time but could shift at turning points. Accepting Monitors were characterized as accepting dentists’ recommendations and dental practice policies relating to oral health and visits, whereas Active Monitors were more independent in judging how often to attend for preventive appointments, while still valuing anticipatory care. Ambivalent Problem–based visitors placed a relatively low value on anticipatory care for oral health maintenance and drifted into lapsed attendance, in part because of service-related factors. This contrasted with Active Problem–based visitors, for whom using services only in an emergency was a conscious decision, with low value placed on anticipatory care.

This article demonstrates the dynamic nature of patterns of dental visiting where the dental system itself is partly instrumental in shaping patterns of utilization in an ecological way. Thus, service-related factors tend to combine with patients’ behavior in expanding inequalities. This illuminates the reasons why risk-based recalls are challenging to implement as a dental policy. Knowledge Transfer Statement: The results of this analysis can be used by clinicians and policymakers to inform policy around supporting uptake of preventive health care visits, contributing in particular to understanding how risk-based preventive visiting policies may be better adapted to patients’ understanding of the purpose of visits, taking into account that this is in part shaped by service-related factors in an ecological way, arising from patients’ and dental teams’ expectations.

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