Oral health and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

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Study examines oral health of individuals with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

The study is the first to investigate the oral health-related quality of life for individuals living with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. (Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock)

SASKATOON, Canada: Oral health can dramatically influence overall health and quality of life. This is especially true for those with developmental disabilities such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Seeking to gain more information about the oral health status of these individuals, researchers from Canada compared their oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL) with that of the general population in Saskatoon. The data offers insights into improving the oral health status and OHRQoL of those with FASD.

FASD can have an impact on the brain and body of individuals who have been exposed to alcohol before birth. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is life-long, causing mild to severe impairment in physical, cognitive, sensory and behavioural development. According to the researchers, the prevalence of FASD has been estimated at one in 100 people in Canada, totalling over 330,000 affected individuals.

FASD is associated with various challenges, including irritability, jitteriness and developmental delays in infancy and hyperactivity, inattention and learning disabilities in childhood. Research also shows that individuals with FASD have poorer oral health outcomes and higher rates of treatment under general anaesthesia when compared with healthy individuals. Additionally, they may experience various barriers to accessing oral healthcare.

According to the study authors, 80% of Canadian adults report having good oral health. However, they stated that those from low-income families, the uninsured, the underemployed, those with disabilities and/or members of Indigenous populations are more likely to have poorer oral health outcomes, which can, in turn, have an impact on their ability to talk and eat and affect their self-esteem and mental health in general.

The study included 154 individuals with FASD and a control group of 154 healthy adults and used data from the Oral Health Impact Profile-14 survey. This survey included 49 questions that were grouped into seven categories that greatly affect the quality of life—functional limitation, physical pain, psychological discomfort, physical disability, psychological disability, social disability and handicap.

The findings showed that those living with FASD have poorer self-reported oral health conditions than the general population. Additionally, it was reported that most of those in the FASD group had experienced physical pain in the past month. In both groups, cost was found to be the greatest barrier to accessing care. The majority of those in the control group experienced a low impact across all categories except for physical disabilities. However, most of those in the FASD group experienced higher impact scores in categories such as psychological discomfort, psychological disability and handicap.

Further research is required to determine the most effective methods of improving the OHRQoL of individuals with FASD and to develop strategies to improve access to healthcare for this group.

The study, titled “The oral health-related quality of life for individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder—a cross-sectional study”, was published online on 29 October 2023 in BMC Oral Health.

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