OBJECTIVE: To explore qualitatively, using a grounded theory approach, homeless people’s awareness of their oral health needs and how they access dental services using a deconstruction-reconstruction formulation, and provide recommendations for service designers and dental professionals who work with people experiencing homelessness.
METHODS: A qualitative study using grounded theory methodology was conducted. A purposive sample of homeless people was recruited from health facilities and organizations serving homeless populations in four Scottish cities and towns. Participants were interviewed about their oral health within the wider context of their experiences of homelessness. Initial research questions were open and focused on social processes such as oral health practices and interaction with dental services. Data collection and analysis were carried out simultaneously and iteratively, with emerging findings informing subsequent cycles. Data analysis was guided by Glaser and Strauss’s grounded theory methodology and involved constant comparison, coding of transcripts and detailed memo-writing.
RESULTS: Thirty-four homeless people took part. Participant experiences were conceptualized as a journey into and through the stages of homelessness, towards ‘reclaiming life’. Oral health experiences were mapped as a parallel 3-stage journey from the deconstruction of self-care, to the construction and maintenance of the neglected dentine, and finally to the reclamation of oral health resulting in a reconstructed functioning dentition.
CONCLUSIONS: This qualitative exploration using a deconstruction-reconstruction formulation has added to the understanding of homeless people’s oral health awareness and dental treatment access while permitting an examination of the wider socioeconomic and psychosocial issues that disrupt their intentions to attend for treatment. These findings provide service designers and dental professionals with recommendations for the provision of responsive, acceptable and appropriate dental health services for those experiencing homelessness.