Did you know that 70% of homeless people in the UK have dental problems and 15% have reported to extracting their own teeth? It was this staggering statistic which led me to volunteer at the mobile dental unit in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in late November 2019. The mobile dental unit, part of Dentaid, was set up to provide treatment to people who find it difficult to access conventional modes of healthcare. Many of these patients are from the poorest parts of society, and often present with complex social, psychological, physical and emotional concerns.
As an undergraduate dental student who has yet to qualify, I was unable to provide treatment, but I was given the responsibility of screening the patients visiting the unit, taking a thorough medical history, and conducting general duties to assist the staff.
Many of the people that visited the unit may not have visited a dentist for a long time, and some may have never visited a dentist at all. Having read the Dentaid blog post by Andy Evans on the importance of breaking barriers to dentistry, I made sure to build good relationships and gain the trust of the patients – calming them down and reassuring them if they had any anxiety towards receiving dental treatment.
It was a gratifying feeling listening to the stories of those visiting the clinic – I learnt so much about so many people and felt privileged that they felt comfortable enough to divulge about their lives and their history to me. I was shocked to hear that some patients had lived with toothache for a whole year and still couldn’t access oral healthcare.
Seeing the dentists volunteering in their spare time and allowing access to oral healthcare to those who struggle to visit a dentist was such a fulfilling experience.
Some of the patients who came to the clinic spoke little English, so I even had the chance to help translate for the dentist and speak to the patients in Urdu – a skill which I had taken for granted before that day.
I will definitely be taking part in more dental volunteering in the future. It was such a pleasure to have been involved in helping run the clinic and to work alongside the dentists.