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Breaking Down Barriers: Tackling the Oral Health Needs of the Homeless

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Dental students from Bart’s and The London have participated in a ‘Team Up’ project co-ordinated by the NHS London Deanery, which sought to encourage lasting health and well-being within the city of London. Inspired by the London 2012 initiative, the program established links between dental students, dentists and the community organisation – St Mungo’s, who enable personalised recovery for homeless people. This project aimed to promote awareness of oral health to this often excluded sector of society. For dental students and dentists in training, this generated a rare opportunity to experience first-hand the importance of dental public health and the community dental services, away from the lecture theatre.

A series of interactive weekly workshops were delivered to the staff and clients of St Mungo’s at hostels situated across North East London. The impact of smoking as a risk factor for oral cancer and periodontal disease was discussed, as well as the link between diet and good oral health. Importantly, both staff and clients were informed about how they could access free NHS dental care, and advised on the necessary certification procedures. Toothpaste and mouthwash samples donated by GlaxoSmithKline were provided as an incentive to adopt good oral health behaviours as well as to generate and maintain interest in the workshops.

At the Team Up Celebration Event held on Tuesday 5 February, in Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House – posters were presented by the 22 different Team Up project partnerships that have taken place across the capital over the past year. Bart’s and The London dental students were awarded 1st place – Overall Winner for their poster: “Breaking Down Barriers: Tackling the Oral Health Needs of the Homeless”. At this prestigious event awards were presented by Olympic medallist 400m sprinter - Christine Ohuruogu MBE, and Olympian Dr Ann Redgrave, wife of Sir Steve Redgrave CBE, who currently serves as Medical Consultant for GB Rowing. We would like to congratulate the winning team: Mark Franks, Rosie Pritchett, Corwin Hine, Luke Fisher-Brown, Shakra Ajmal, Dr Avan Mohammed, Dr Nicholas Clifford, Dr Ashmai Waller, Dr Sundeep Rooprai and Dr Thuha Jabber. Further congratulations go to the 30 other dental students who gave their time to participate in conducting workshops.

One of the most important aspects assessed by the judges was the legacy of each Team Up project. Leading on from this achievement and with a solid foundation to work on, the team now aims to establish a lasting legacy by integrating the promotion of oral health to St Mungo's clients within the Dental School curriculum. This will enable students to undertake practical projects in Dental Public Health, increasing awareness of the challenges faced by the homeless and an opportunity to generate novel ideas for the distribution of dental services in this area. Furthermore, it is hoped that exposure to these oral health issues as students will ignite an interest that carries on throughout their professional career.

Sharing about his Team Up experience, Corwin Hine - dental student and health team member for St Mungo’s oral health project said: “This has been a fantastic experience in which we’ve been challenged in meeting the needs of the homeless community and trying to engage their interest in oral health.  Being able to participate in this practical application of dental public health through listening to their questions and providing basic guidance has been extremely rewarding.”

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