Objective: To examine whether general dental practitioners regard themselves as having a role in identifying dental patients with mental health problems.
Method: Telephone interviews were conducted with, and postal questionnaires were sent to, a random sample (n = 94) of general dental practitioners on Health Authority lists within the Mersey Region. A total of 84 general dental practitioners responded, resulting in an 89% response rate.
Results: The majority of general dental practitioners had encountered patients with mental health problems (78% of interviewees, 56% of questionnaire responders). However, nearly half of the interviewees (46%) do not refer patients with mental health problems. When referrals to dental specialists were made, they tended to be regarding a physical manifestation rather than a psychological one. The majority of interviewees and questionnaire responders (55% and 82% respectively) expressed a 'positive' response to the development of a referral role. Nevertheless, there were some reservations concerning the practicalities of its development and implementation.
Conclusion: The majority of general dental practitioners consider a role in identifying patients with possible mental health problems. This role might include, being able to identify patients with undiagnosed mental health problems, and being aware of dental conditions which may be caused by mental health problems. To achieve this, inter-professional co-operation between general dental practitioners and other health professionals requires development.