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 on the mobile dental unit in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in late November 2019. The unit was set up to provide treatment for 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.
I found out about this initiative when I was researching charities as part of my upcoming dental elective trip. I was already aware that Dentaid runs projects overseas but was quite surprised to see that there were ongoing initiatives in the UK – the phrase “charity begins at home” came to mind and I knew I had to get involved.
As an undergraduate dental student who has yet to qualify, I was unable to provide direct treatment to the patients 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 down 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.
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. It was great to speak to Sue Baker, who was running the clinic, about how she became involved in dental volunteering. I also had the chance to speak to a FD trainer, two Foundation Dentists and the nursing staff, all of whom showed amazing commitment volunteering on a freezing Saturday!
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.