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Objective: To understand why, how and under what circumstances interventions lead to improved access of young adults with experience of homelessness (YAEH) to primary care dental services in the UK. Methods: We followed a realist, theory-driven methodology. It involved locating existing theories, searching for evidence, document selection, data extraction/appraisal and evidence synthesis. We searched scientific databases and grey literature sources. We used these data and relevant substantive theories to develop explanations of how, why and under what circumstances interventions lead to desired outcomes. We presented these explanations in the form of context-mechanism-outcome configurations (CMOCs). The CMOCs were incorporated in an overarching programme theory, which was iteratively developed and refined throughout the realist synthesis. Results: We used 106 scientific and 18 grey literature records to synthesize 61 CMOCs. Our revised programme theory highlights the importance of four main considerations: ‘preparing a service’, ‘producing and disseminating information’, ‘outreach activities’ and ‘facilitating interactions’. When designing dental programmes for YAEH, we recommend considering the importance of prior service planning (including resourcing of emergency dental care, training staff and incorporating safety measures), creating positive experiences, flexibility, patient-centeredness, being informative and reassuring, creating an enabling environment (including strong communication, building rapport and avoiding negative judgements), having realistic expectations and designing services that empower patients. Conclusions: Improving dental access of YAEH requires attention to multiple levels. Services can achieve positive outcomes by understanding the complexity of YAEH lives, and creating contextual circumstances that encourage their attendance.

Original publication




Journal article


Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology

Publication Date