Objectives: The aim of this study was to evaluate patient experiences of inconvenience and treatment need while waiting for dental treatment.
Materials and methods: A systematic sample of 210 patients with varying lengths of waiting time was drawn from the waiting list for non-emergency treatment in the City of Turku. A questionnaire covering socio-demographic background was mailed to the patients. The level of inconvenience caused by waiting was assessed by a linear visual analogue scale (0-100).
Results: A total of 112 subjects (60%) completed and returned the questionnaire and 109 (58%) gave permission to collect data from their patient records. The average inconvenience score was 42.9, with those who had waited for 3 months or less reporting less inconvenience than those that had waited for 4 months or more. There was not a straightforward linear correlation between length of waiting time and level of inconvenience experienced. Experiences of inconvenience were independent of socio-demographic background. The patient-reported maximum acceptable waiting time for non-urgent dental treatment was 45.8 days. Fewer than half (42.0%) of the subjects had received treatment while waiting for comprehensive care; women (51.7%) significantly (p < 0.05) more often than men (31.5%). Fillings and unspecified emergency treatments were the most commonly needed treatment.
Conclusions: Waiting for dental treatment appears to be well-tolerated, as long as the waiting time remains reasonable. Treatment providers seem to have few means with which to rank dental patients into several queues with different urgencies.