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New Study at Craig to Address Oral Health of Individuals with SCI

June 03, 2022

In a study that is the first of its kind, Craig Hospital's Research Department will investigate the oral health of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) and is currently recruiting participants. The three-year project, funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, will be conducted as an online focus group in its first phase.

The World Health Organization's definition of oral health includes freedom from oral disease and mental and social well-being. Oral disease can have negative effects on the health and well-being of a person throughout their lifetime. Oral health-related quality of life (OHRQOL) has been defined by the U.S. Surgeon General as a concept “that reflects people's comfort when eating, sleeping, and engaging in social interaction; self-esteem; and satisfaction with oral health.” Dissatisfaction with oral health may damage self-image and lead to fewer social interactions. People dissatisfied with the appearance of their teeth also tend to often avoid conversation, smiling and laughing.

"Oral health is a critical component of overall health, yet is often neglected, especially after the onset of an SCI," Jennifer Coker, PhD, MPH, Craig Research Scientist and the study's lead investigator, says. "Research has found that people with SCI often have poorer oral health than the general population, likely due to the functional limitations of the SCI as well as financial and physical accessibility of dental care. How one's teeth look can affect many facets of one's life, including perceptions of intelligence, employability, friendliness, and psychosocial stability, and dissatisfaction with oral health can lead to serious effects on self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, all of which people with SCI are already at an increased risk of experiencing. This study will be the first to look at the impact of oral health on quality of life in people with SCI."

Spinal cord injury can lead to a number of functional limitations, secondary health conditions, and barriers that can have an impact on oral health. Studies have found that people with SCI have poorer oral health than the general population and brush and floss their teeth less than people with other disabilities. Oral problems such as pain and tooth loss may make using mouth-held adaptive devices more difficult. Similarly, these devices can damage teeth and cause oral injuries. People with SCI already are at increased risk for secondary health conditions that can be affected by poor oral health, as well as decreased quality of life. In addition to the functional and social limitations of the SCI itself, there is the additional stigma of “apparent disability” that can affect willingness to engage in interactions, intimacy and relationships, which may increase depression and anxiety.

The goals of this project are to explore the oral health “lived experience,” to characterize the current status of oral health, and to assess the relationship of oral health and OHRQOL to health outcomes in people with SCI. This will be the first study in people with SCI to look at oral health and the impact on psychological outcomes and will increase our understanding of oral health factors that affect quality of life.

The study is currently recruiting participants who have had an SCI for at least a year, are 18 years old or older, and speak English fluently to participate in online focus groups. Participants will attend a one-time discussion group on Zoom that will last no more than three hours to discuss your oral health and factors that make maintaining your oral health easier or more difficult. Participants will be compensated for their time.

Please contact Marissa Jaross at 303-789-8970 or to learn more and to apply to participate in the study.

Download the research study flyer here.