How might we accommodate bariatric patients in mainstream oral health pathways?
Levels of obesity in the UK are increasing, and there is a need for oral care services to adapt to these patients’ needs so that they are able to access quality care. Bariatric patients have numerous potential physical and psychological barriers to accessing dental care. Negative experiences and anxiety around accessing dental care can result in disengagement with services and ultimately lead to poor oral health.
Mainstream dental chairs have a weight limit of 20 stone. When a patients’ weight exceeds this they can’t be treated in high street dental facilities and are referred to special care services. Bariatric dental chairs have a high weight limit and are designed for bariatric patients. However, special care services often don’t have bariatric dental chairs because of high costs and numerous usability issues. Instead, patients are treated on a surgical trolley. As such, experiences around dental chairs can be highly stigmatising for bariatric patients.
This project aimed to investigate and improve the oral care experiences of bariatric patients, focusing on the design of bariatric dental chairs.
The project was undertaken by Year 3 BEng Industrial Design student, Lanbing Xu, at the University of Liverpool with supervision from Dr Farnaz Nickpour and Isobel Leason, over an eight-month period.
A literature review, market analysis, stakeholder interviews, personas and patient journey mapping were used to define the user requirements.
Consultation with dentists uncovered a key opportunity. There is a significant number of bariatric patients who are referred to special care services solely because of the chair weight limit who have no other reason to require special care services. Equipping mainstream dental services with a chair that could accommodate these bariatric patients would bring significant benefits to patients, practitioners and service providers.
A chair that accommodates both bariatric and mainstream patients allowing bariatric patients easier access to care through mainstream dental services, streamlining the service pathway. This could lower strain on secondary care services and reduce the stigma felt by bariatric patients.
Concept generation led to the development of an adjustable dental chair that could be personalised to each patient. This would be beneficial in the care of mainstream patients as well as enable the treatment of bariatric patients. The development process focused on the adjustable backrest of the chair.
The result is a dental chair design for use in general dental services that accommodates both bariatric and mainstream patients. The chair adapts to each patient through an adjustable backrest, improving patient comfort and ensuring easy access to the mouth for the dentist.