Scleroderma or systemic sclerosis causes dry mouth, a major risk factor for tooth decay, and shrinks the mouth opening, complicating care. A 2011 survey determined that 28% of systemic sclerosis patients have difficulty finding dentists prepared to treat them, and 63% do not recommend their current dentist to other systemic sclerosis patients. We use a survey to gauge dentists’ knowledge and attitudes regarding the care of scleroderma patients.
We conducted an Internet-based survey of all 4465 members of the Massachusetts Dental Society to determine their knowledge and attitudes of treating systemic sclerosis patients. Data were analyzed using SPSS and Qualtrics research suite.
Surveys were accessed by 351 dentists and completed by 269. Responses were primarily from Eastern Massachusetts (80%), but represented the Boston area less than expected. Most dentists believed they have an ethical responsibility to treat patients who have scleroderma (93%). More than half of dentists believed that in not knowing about systemic sclerosis they might harm a patient (51%). If contacted by a patient who has scleroderma, 50% of dentists would gather information on the disease or the patient’s condition. Dentists who felt prepared (71%) were more likely to correctly answer questions related to diagnosis and classification of scleroderma than those who felt unprepared (P = 0.004, Mann-Whitney U test).
Results indicate the potential value of creating a health communication effort targeting oral health providers to improve scleroderma patient satisfaction and access to care.