Mathehu's Weblog

mulling over (research) ideas

Taking Moodle into Prison Dentistry

It’s official, I’ll start a new job in August looking into oral health promotion in Scottish prisons. Here are my first thoughts ab0ut how to approach that.

Dentists working in prisons tend to work in professional isolation. They are usually the only dentist in a prison and work without the support of dental hygienists or therapists. In addition to dental and oral health challenges they are also working in an environment, which is, at times, challenging their interpersonal and stress management skills.

Dentistry in prison is also rarely a funding priority, which results in under-staffing, long waiting times, logistic difficulties in moving prisoners from their cells to the prison surgery, difficulties sourcing necessary equipment and materials in a timely fashion, etc.

While the funding shortage is not likely to change, there are some apparently cost-neutral strategies to at least address professional isolation, professional development as well as sharing of good practice and challenges.

Moodle is an open source, virtual learning environment, which is free to use. It has been traditionally adopted in schools or Universities but is now used by almost 50,000 organisations across the globe. This widespread uptake is a testimony of its flexibility, free service, interactivity and a host of other features, which are either part and parcel of the package or can easily be linked to wherever they are in the web. As a result, it lends itself well as a platform to support collaboration and networking among groups like prison dentists as well as between dentists and other professions (health and otherwise).

I’ll be keeping a close eye on David’s blog to inform my thinking and approach on this matter.

Let’s assume that offering a Moodle platform to prison dentists is a good idea.  First of all, prison dentists would have to be part of this right from the start. They would need to inform the content of the Moodle platform, the tools utilised, the appearance, and the level of interactivity.

What arguments are there to convince them of the benefits of participating in such an endeavour? How could these arguments be presented so that they convince dentists and potential funders?

Let’s use David’s ideas for the first time and explore the concept of distributive or distributed leadership. Distributed leadership was described “as a shared process of enhancing the collective and individual capacity of people to accomplish their work roles effectively” (Yukl, 1999, p. 292). Exploring the idea of distributed leadership makes intuitive sense from a number of perspectives.

  • Prison dentists are highly qualified professionals used to working in isolation. Each one is an expert in their field, potentially providing gold standard care, which could inform service delivery in general. Often they also work in private practice where they have leadership roles in their business.
  • There is usually one dentist per prison. Each prison will provide an idiosyncratic context for the dentist’s work. Consequently, each prison dentist needs to consider his environment but may be able to benefit from other perspectives in the aim of improving practice generally as well as in each prison context.
  • Health care provision in prisons falls under the responsibility of various leaders, including health professionals, prison authorities, and governance institutions. A distributed leadership perspective would allow for the various roles and remits to be integrated.
  • The skills required to provide gold standard oral health care within the constraints and unique challenges of the prison system are likely to exceed the skills set of any one person.

On the other hand, it may be a stretch to call individual dentists’ practice shared leadership. Maybe, this should rather be viewed as a network or a potential partnership. Let’s have a look at partnership working within the health context. Following this, I’ll delve into Social Network Analysis.


Yukl, G. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), p. 285-305.


May 13, 2010 Posted by | Dental care research | 3 Comments

Dental care surveys

One of my current interests is in dental self care. I’m currently looking for relevant surveys on the web.

So far I found the following:

September 5, 2008 Posted by | Dental care research | , | Leave a comment