Dental students from Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry have worked with veterans’ Community Interest Company Active Plus, to help raise awareness of oral health and dental care.

The project, which is believed to be the first of its kind, targets job seekers using skills, experience and expertise of injured military veterans to deliver individual programmes.

Active Plus aims to build confidence, motivation and self-belief, unlocking the potential of civilian participants, all of whom are from vulnerable or potentially vulnerable groups.

Tim Cocks from the organisation commented: ‘The students did a superb job at getting the message across to their target audience.

‘We hope too that they learned from our clients and veterans, all of whom brought unique experience and expertise to the project and who demonstrated the resilience they have developed in order to rebuild their lives after injury on service.’

The programme provided the introduction to the job centre programme in Plymouth, and their veterans worked with the students to help them deliver their project.

The big issue

The students were able to start their project by speaking to clients of the Active Plus employment course about oral health.

This showed the students the general level of oral health-related knowledge among their target group, and what worried them about dentistry.

They discovered that accessing an NHS dentist is the biggest issue – whether because of cost, transport, fear or other reasons.

They also learned that the target group would appreciate general tips about oral hygiene, as there were many misconceptions about what should and should not be done. 

The group then created a drop-in session at a local job centre to target this client group – the Oral Health Awareness Event.

The event included three stalls focussing on: general information about oral hygiene; information about the impact of diet on teeth, and; how to access care from an NHS dentist.

The stalls were interactive and included elements such as brushing and flossing demonstrations, bags of sugar indicating how much is in common food and drinks and the opportunity to for job seekers to ask questions.

Each attendee also received a goodie bag.

Inter Professional Engagement programme

The project is part of the Inter Professional Engagement (IPE) programme which sees dental students undertake a number of projects in the community designed to raise oral health awareness and to improve access to dental care.

The programme is delivered by the community engagement team at the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise.

This was the first time that Active Plus has hosted a dental student IPE.

Tim added: ‘The actual delivery of the event was delivered in a very professional way and the students managed to engage with many of the Job Centre Plus clients who do not usually stay long in that environment.

‘The attitude and enthusiasm from the students was exceptional and I would have no hesitation in recommending any organisation to work with them in the future.’

Reena Patel, who led the project from Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise, added: ‘Without the support of our host organisations we could not run such an effective IPE programme for our dental students, so our thanks go to Active Plus for supporting this project.

‘It was valuable to our students not just to find out and address oral health issues for job seekers, but also to work with Active Plus and its clients to interact with people who have overcome immense obstacles.’