‘Oral health is not my department’ Perceptions of elderly patients’ oral health by general medical practitioners in primary health care centres: a qualitative interview study


Kerstin Andersson, Dental Hygienist, Department of Periodontology, Institution of Odontology, Karolinska Institutet, PO Box 4064, S-141 04 Huddinge, Stockholm, Sweden.
E-mail: kerstin.m.andersson@kau.se


The purpose of this study was to explore general medical practitioners’ (GPs) perceptions of the oral health of their elderly patients. The design was a qualitative study based on individual in-depth interviews with GPs. The criterion for inclusion in the study was that the GP was a specialist in family medicine working in a primary health care centre (PHCC:s) in the county of Stockholm. The participants took part in the study after informed consent. Eleven GPs were interviewed. The interview started with semi-structured questions about the respondents’ clinical presentation of their elderly patients’, e.g. medication, medical treatment and socioeconomic status. The interview concluded with questions about the respondents’ experiences of and perceptions of the oral health of their patients. This process started with the first interview and proceeded with successive interviews until no new relevant information was forthcoming. The initial semi-structured part of the interview guide was analysed for content with special reference to descriptive answers. The final open questions were analysed by a method inspired by grounded theory (GT) and comprised three stages: open coding, axial coding and selective coding. In the GT influenced analysis process, three categories, health perspective, working conditions and cultural differences, each in turn containing subcategories, were identified and labelled. The most significant category, cultural differences, was identified as the core category, explaining the central meaning of the respondents’ perceptions of the oral health of their elderly patients. The GPs in this study showed little or no awareness of the oral health of their elderly patients. The interviews disclosed several contributing factors. Barriers to closer integration of oral and general health in the elderly were identified. There existed a cultural gap between the disciplines of dentistry and medicine, which does not enhance and may be detrimental to the overall well-being of elderly patients.