After a particularly challenging day, I passed the Dentaid mobile unit on my way home. Aware of the charity since its inception and the work it does overseas in countries where dentistry is a luxury that most cannot afford, I often thought of joining one of their volunteering experiences.
Unfortunately, family commitments made it difficult for me to be away from home. On the Dentaid website I found it was running mobile dental units especially for the homeless – a service that was very much needed and could operate during the pandemic. I contacted Dentaid to see how I could help locally.
As I work part-time in mostly NHS practice and also at the Emergency Dental Service run by Sussex Community Trust, I could commit to helping occasionally.
Treatment provided by Dentaid for the homeless is free, providing a much-needed lifeline that can make a real difference to a person’s wellbeing and helps them to turn their life around.
Very often there are underlying mental health issues: drug and alcohol dependency and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which are certainly not helped by severe toothache. Who would not try to numb the pain? These people have no easy access to pain relief treatment, adding to their other problems caused by or as a result of their homelessness.
I offered my services and got involved. The gratitude I received from patients and from the charity afterwards was unexpected and most rewarding. It made a real difference to how I felt about the experience. I choose which days I volunteer and where. Often patients want to talk about how they ended up homeless and what they hope to do in the future.
This generally happens whilst waiting for the local anaesthetic to work, building a rapport prior to treatment, which may involve an extraction. There are usually the same fears and concerns regarding dental treatment as for us all.
Dentaid recently started a new initiative teaming up with Macmillan to provide dental care for patients undergoing head and neck cancer treatment. These patients, like the general population, have found it difficult to access NHS dental care.
We see these patients occasionally in general practice but what happens to those who cannot access NHS dentistry? Many have lost livelihoods due to the nature of cancer treatment.
Overall, I find volunteering extremely rewarding. I previously made donations to cancer, dental and homeless charities and will continue to fundraise. This experience gives me a new perspective. I utilise the training and skills acquired over many years. I enjoy the face-to-face contact with people and it gives me a huge boost to help where I can. There are not the same pressures as in general practice.
I am treated with respect by patients who are always charming, extremely grateful, and never rude or aggressive. Volunteering with Dentaid helps the vulnerable and needy in society who otherwise would have no voice and would suffer.
Written by Mary Green