It is an uncomfortable truth that Manchester has the highest rate of homelessness in the north of England, with one in 135 Mancunians sleeping rough. Although the ultimate hope for these individuals is to be housed, another big concern is their health and wellbeing. Dentistry students at the University of Manchester have been trying to tackle the issue of oral hygiene amongst the homeless population through several ventures via the Homeless Healthcare Society. Dental Representative at the society, Murrium Bennie, discusses below just exactly what they’ve been doing to combat the issue…
Studying Dentistry at Manchester had always been attractive to me. It had an excellent reputation and the EBL (enquiry based learning) course structure was something that really appealed to me. Add the fact I am from just outside of Manchester and have always loved what the city has to offer and it really was a no-brainer.
With my expectations and excitement levels high, the course could have easily have turned out to be unfulfilling, however, that certainly hasn’t been the case. I have loved all the opportunities it has given me and the practical element of the course is something that lends itself to the way I like to learn.
One of the best opportunities I have been given through the course is the Homeless Care Project. I have always been interested in working with the homeless and helping this cause in particular above others. I had previously volunteered with my family in local projects such as packing winter survival packs and helping as part of the occasional soup kitchen. After seeing the overwhelming size of the homeless population and realising the need for help, I started my own personal projects. This involved distributing hot food and bottles of water on the streets of Manchester whenever I had the spare time and getting my friends to help.
Shortly after this, at the end of my third year of dentistry, I had the idea of exploring the possibility of creating dental care packs to distribute to the homeless. Seeing patients in pain in the dental hospital regularly made me realise these problems were not exclusive to the non-homeless population and prevention of dental pain should be a high priority, especially in those who have bigger issues to worry about such as finding a bed for the night. Therefore, I applied to be part of the ‘homeless healthcare society’ and pitched my idea.
At the start of my fourth year, I was awarded the role of ‘Dental Representative’ and did everything I could to pursue this idea of creating dental packs. I contacted reps from GSK and Colgate to see what they were able to offer in order to create the packs I envisioned and along with the help of Dr Ari and Teresa Smith, I managed to get some toothpaste samples and toothbrushes to get me started. Myself and fellow student, Afreen Osman, then contacted local homeless centres such as the wellspring centre and mustard tree in Manchester in order to create ties and explore the possibility of students going to deliver oral hygiene advice and deliver samples of toothpaste with information leaflets.
Students usually go in groups of four or five to visit the homeless centres with the samples and leaflets and use this opportunity to sit down with service users to discuss any problems they are currently/ have previously had in regards to their teeth. The students then advise them on how to resolve their problems, giving plenty of preventative advice and in some cases referring them to the dental hospital where they can have treatment.
It is important to be able to communicate with all types of people as a dentist and being able to communicate effectively with homeless people and teaching them how to improve their oral hygiene will only improve my skills as a well-rounded dentist. It’s a great initiative for younger year students who are not as familiar with the advice we offer patients. So many of them are keen to get involved and it’s great for them to be thrown into it, giving them a good experience and it helps them realise the positive impact it can have.
The dental school have been hugely encouraging towards this project and Dr Ari, in particular, has been a huge part of its success. After seeking his help at the beginning while trying to make the project happen, he has been encouraging and offered help and advice all along the way. His desire to make dental volunteering a part of the dental school culture and give opportunities to all students has been inspiring and motivating. Another staff member, Teresa Smith also helps towards homeless projects and has been both encouraging and helpful in bringing ideas and helping provide donations for the dental packs. Both members of staff have had a strong desire to help towards the cause and have helped to make the volunteering happen.
Going forward, myself and Afreen Osman will be coordinating the project next year to create opportunities for students and to help make a difference. We are hoping to expand the project to create more opportunities for dental students of all years.