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'You learn to smile with your eyes', exploring the impact of enhanced personal protective equipment on primary care dental practitioners in the UK: An interpretative phenomenological study.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of the study was to explore how dental practitioners in primary care settings perceive the impact of enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) upon patient communication and wider clinical practice.

METHODS: This study utilized a qualitative approach, rooted in critical realism. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) methodology was adopted as the study method. In accordance with IPA, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted. Eight dental practitioners were recruited, with data analysis conducted according to the principles of IPA.

RESULTS: Three themes were synthesized (related to communication and clinical practice): (1) Impaired communication and relationship building; (2) Physical impacts and required adjustments when wearing enhanced-PPE; and (3) Psychological stress of implementing enhanced-PPE. Theme one reflects changes to the dynamic of communication between patients and colleagues brought about by enhanced-PPE. Theme two describes the physical and psychological strains of providing care in enhanced-PPE and the ways through which practitioners tried to overcome these challenges. Theme three explores how the roll-out and guidance related to the use of enhanced-PPE affected clinical practice.

CONCLUSIONS: Dental Practitioners described several barriers to communication as well as physical and mental stressors caused by enhanced-PPE, all of which were perceived to impact upon the quality of care provided to patients. Further research is required to develop effective interventions to mitigate the impact of enhanced-PPE upon clinical practice and to explore the long-term impact of enhanced-PPE on clinical practice, post-COVID.

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