Sonsoles de Lacalle
The homeless population in Ventura County is a diverse population that continues to grow every year. The health needs of this group of people are largely unmet. The aim of this study is to identify specifically the barriers that reduce access to oral health care among homeless individuals, and propose solutions to this problem. Recent literature on this topic is scarce despite it being very relevant to the field of public health.
A total of 13 literature articles were included in this study. In addition, interviews were conducted with 5 primary dental providers. Both the literature reviews and the interviews identified the following barriers for homeless individuals to access oral health care: financial, knowledge, transportation, psychological/mental illness, and culture. The financial barrier includes lack of dental insurance and inability to pay for services in cash. The knowledge barrier includes both ignorance of the benefits of receiving dental care and not being aware of available services. The transportation barrier includes both lacking the means to reach a dental office, and this highlights how the location of dental offices could increase or reduce access to oral health care.The psychological/mental illness barrier refers to the fact that homeless individuals experience fear or severe anxiety towards dental visits, and sometimes due to a bad experience in the past. The cultural barrier refers both to a language barrier (either the patient is unable to speak English or the provider is unable to communicate in another language), and cultural influences that impact health behaviors of these individuals (for example, believing that oral health care should be considered in cases of extreme pain only).
This study leads to the conclusion that there are a number of barriers preventing homeless individuals from accessing oral health care, despite the need for such care within this population. However, these barriers are not insurmountable and this paper also identifies potential solutions to improve oral health care of the homeless population.