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“That’s great; but what about people here?”
For the last 22 years, the international dental charity Dentaid has been sending reconditioned dental equipment, teams of volunteers and oral health resources to dentists in the poorest and most remote regions of the world. With 70 per cent of the world’s population having no access to a dentist and more than 3 billion people suffering toothache and dental infections, Dentaid has worked in the developing world to deliver safe, sustainable care for people who have no other access to treatment.
In 2015 Dentaid became aware of a soup kitchen in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire where vulnerable, hungry people were not able to eat a free meal because they had a toothache. And some people in the town had got so desperate they had tried (usually unsuccessfully) to extract their own teeth. It transpired that there was a two-year waiting list to sign up with an NHS dentist in Dewsbury and surgeries’ waiting lists ran to several pages.
So Dentaid, with the support of kind-hearted local dental professionals, launched The Real Junk Tooth Project where anyone who needed dental care and wasn’t registered with a dentist could turn up on a Thursday evening and receive free, pain relieving treatment. Demand was so great that a three-month pilot scheme was extended to seven months and 150 people were seen.
As with many great ideas, things quickly snowballed. Requests started coming in for similar clinics across the UK – including Winchester near the Landford office where Dentaid is based. “If only we had a clinic on wheels,” said Dentaid’s CEO Andy Evans. Weeks later a mobile unit previously operated by a community dental service came up for sale at auction and Dentaid snapped it up.
Now there are monthly clinics at Trinity House day centre in Winchester, Alabaré hostel in Salisbury and Two Saints’ supporting living service in Southampton. The mobile dental unit has been back to Dewsbury where more than 350 people were treated at 15 public access clinics held in schools, community centre and the town hall. The “Dentaid van” has been to schools for fluoride varnish programmes, a health day for homeless people with addiction problems in Blackpool, homeless shelters in Leeds, Hatfield, Wolverhampton and Cornwall and support groups for children with autism and downs syndrome. Treatments include extractions, scale and polish, fillings and oral health advice.
Although there’s no shortage of NHS dentists in many of these areas, lots of homeless and vulnerable people face barriers to accessing care and don’t seek dental treatment until it has a severe impact on their lives. Some end up in A&E and others rely on drugs and alcohol to mask their dental pain. By taking the unit to a location where they feel safe and comfortable, Dentaid volunteers can work with them to get them out of dental pain and work to re-engage them with NHS dental provision.
“I’ve had a toothache for so long I don’t remember not having it,” said Alabaré Place resident James Walmsley. “It does keep me awake but for people with anxiety and mental health issues going out to a dentist is really hard so it’s much better that the dentists come here. I’ve had a filling and if I get my teeth sorted hopefully I’ll smile more.”
Many of our patients never expected to need our help. “You never know when you’re going to need a service like this,” said one victim of domestic violence who ended up living on the street after fleeing her home. “I always took great pride in my teeth and then one day everything changed. It’s important for my self-esteem to have good dental health but it’s the last thing on your mind in difficult times.”
Some of Dentaid’s regular clients are now having restorative dental care on the mobile unit which is helping to improve their confidence as they seek new employment and housing opportunities.
Dentaid is receiving a growing number of request for clinics on the mobile dental unit which presents huge challenges in logistics and fundraising. That’s why donations like those from Single Use Instruments are so valuable to our work.
Dentaid remains committed to all its overseas projects and is still working in countries including Uganda, Kenya, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Morocco as well as starting new programmes in Zambia, The Philippines, South Africa and Malawi.
But alongside this work, we have found a way to offer free, outreach dental clinics for people in the UK who would otherwise struggle to access treatment.
To find out more or support our work visit www.dentaid.org.
If you would like to find out more about the charities and organisations we work with, you can view these on our Charities page.