Considering running a homeless dental service? Ben Atkins shares his experience

homeless dental serviceBen Atkins explains how his practice got involved with hard-to-reach patients and offers advice to those looking to run a homeless dental service.

Rates of dental decay have improved over the past 40 years but high levels of decay still remain in certain cohorts of the community. Individuals who fall under the umbrella of ‘hard-to-reach’, such as homeless people, are very unlikely to attend a general dental practice.

Dental care for people who find themselves homeless is essential but accessing it seems to be far more difficult than accessing medical care. Homeless people have similar levels of dental disease to the housed population with much higher levels of untreated disease. To manage pain, some clients who are not accessing dental services often end up misusing drugs or misusing their prescribed medications.

Taking action

Several years ago, Revive Dental Care started to become involved with providing dental services to homeless people in Manchester. We shared a building with a medical clinic called Homeless Medical Service Unit that operates a homeless service. I would describe it as Dickensian the state in which many patients suffered oral health and dental disease in this clinic. We decided to pilot a service for these hard-to-reach patients and our local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Manchester PCT, awarded us a small contract.

The commissioners were keen that patients did not use the dental service purely for emergencies but hoped that their general levels of oral health could be improved by encouraging patients to make follow-up appointments for further treatment. It was hoped that by removing the patients from pain their trust would increase and make them more likely to attend for further preventive treatment.

It soon became obvious that there was an acute need for dental provision...

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