Inclusive Design for Future Oral Health Scenarios; a lifespan design approach

How might we structure & improve extreme and mainstream oral health pathways through inclusive design?


Oral health status can have a significant impact upon an individual’s quality of life. Poor oral health and tooth loss can affect the basic day to day functions of chewing and speech that can have physical and psychosocial impacts that persist throughout life. Despite a great shift towards preventative strategies to encourage good dietary and oral health practices, preventable diseases such as dental caries and periodontal disease remain prevalent across all age groups.

Additional biological, physical, and sociological factors such as age and stage, physical and mental health, and physical and neuro-cognitive ability can further impact an individual’s access to and quality of dental care. Subgroups such as the older population; children and young adults; and neurodiverse, and physically disabled individuals; may be subjected to additional systemic health inequalities and exclusions that could be improved through greater research and an inclusive design & innovation mindset.

Adopting an inclusive design approach helps identify a holistic and diverse set of extreme oral health scenarios across primary, community and special care settings. This could lead into two outcomes; 1. inform the design of more inclusive primary and community care settings and, 2. less demand for special care services, while improving the quality and inclusivity of the experience.

Furthermore, physical barriers to access to oral health has been the main focus of health inequalities research so far. An inclusive design approach would help identify and converge both physical and psychosocial barriers to access and quality of oral health, through investigating neurodiversity and lifestyle exclusions, alongside physical disability and age-related decline.


Adopting inclusive design and lifespan design approaches, this PhD research aims to:

1. Explore extreme and mainstream oral health scenarios across paediatric, adult and geriatric population and identify key subgroups

2. Create oral health experience maps for identified subgroups through capturing access, quality, and support needs and issues across every stage, and highlighting key design opportunities and insights

3. Develop an Inclusive Oral Health Classification System evaluating an individual’s capabilities and demands (physical and psychosocial) and a tagging system indicating oral health support and services needed.


The research is led by by an interdisciplinary academic and clinical expert team including Dr Farnaz Nickpour (inclusive design & human-centred innovation) and Dr Nicholas Longridge (restorative dentistry and endodontics specialist) from the two faculties of Science & Engineering and Health & Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool. The research has been awarded full funding by the Doctoral Training Network in Technologies for Healthy Ageing at the University of Liverpool.

A mixed methodological approach of qualitative and quantitative data capture and analysis is adopted. This interdisciplinary PhD research converges two distinctive avenues of healthcare research including ‘Exploring the Data’ and ‘Understanding People and Context’.

A. Healthcare data analysis: Risk data, Quality data, Patient data, and Strategic datasets might be explored and interrogated within primary, community and special care setting in order to identify patterns and priorities and generate insights across paediatric, adult and geriatric patient groups.

B. Human centred understanding: Design-led ethnographic research methods and user experience mapping will be conducted with identified subgroups, in order to understand the problem space and inform the challenges identified through data insights.


This interdisciplinary healthcare design PhD research aims to improve the overall patient experience through developing an Inclusive Oral Health Classification System. The system will capture diverse and high-risk patients’ capabilities and demands, and accordingly indicate the level of support and services required. In parallel, the project could lead to strategic design recommendations to help healthcare providers optimise services to be more inclusive, patient-centred, and sustainable.