Exploring the Oral Health Attitudes and Practices of Adolescent Mothers: A Case Study

Cleland, Tanya Marie
Lucas, Patricia
Cairncross, Carolyn
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

The purpose of this research is to explore the factors influencing oral health attitudes and practices of adolescent mothers. The New Zealand (NZ) Ministry of Health (MOH) has identified adolescents as a priority group, yet disparities still exist in oral health outcomes and access to services for children and adolescents. There has been little research conducted in this field in recent times, so it is timely for this contemporary research to take place. Internationally maternal oral health is well researched with a focus largely on prenatal care. This research aims to examine issues specific to adolescent mothers’ oral health and the complexities of these young women achieving positive oral health outcomes, for themselves and their children, as these can be indicators of future oral health needs. A case study methodology was used to enable a close examination of the oral health experiences of a specific group of participants who are linked together through attending a teen parenting unit at their secondary school in Auckland, NZ. Nine adolescent mothers were recruited and consented to participate in a written questionnaire and an individual interview using semi-structured questions. Data was analysed using thematic analysis to generate, analyse and report on the key themes found. The key themes identified were: 1. Adolescent mothers’ oral health attitudes and practices, 2. Experiences of oral health care, 3. Factors influencing oral health outcomes and 4. Oral health knowledge and literacy. Prompted to tell her own oral health story each young mother detailed her oral hygiene practices and the importance placed on the teeth of their children. While many of these young mothers self-reported good oral health, attendance for routine dental appointments and toothbrushing practices, they all had challenges with access to dental services largely due to a lack of time, availability, and cost. In addition, this study found oral health practitioners were not the primary source of oral health knowledge, rather this information came from a range of formal and informal education, including family conversations and health professionals. This finding suggests there is a role for schools, and other health professionals, to play in providing more formal oral health education for adolescents to improve oral health outcomes. Further research into collaborative education is warranted.

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