Homeless people get life-changing dental treatment free of charge under an innovative program from the University of Portsmouth

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For four weeks, some 40 people living on the streets of Portsmouth were offered treatment by students from the University of Portsmouth dental academy.

Patients attended a two-hour clinic every Wednesday afternoon at the academy’s state-of-the-art center in the William Beatty Building, Hampshire Terrace.

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Dental students Mansoor Sadaat, Jay Bhardwa and Veronika Ramanauskaite with their patient Don at the University of Portsmouth Dental Academy, William Beatty Building, Portsmouth on Wednesday 15th December 2021 Photo: Habibur Rahman

The health scheme has been hailed as one of the first in the country, bringing together trainee hygienists, dental nurses and dental therapists.

And it has transformed the life of Barry Wilson, 52, from Portsmouth, who has been homeless since 2015.

Aged 46 at the time, Barry found himself living on the streets after his relationship with his wife collapsed.

He moved from one “chaotic hostel” to another – all the while struggling to overcome his addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Janani Sivabalan and Professor Chris Louca at the University of Portsmouth Dental Academy, William Beatty Building, Portsmouth Photo: Habibur Rahman

Fast forward six years, and Barry’s situation on the streets has caused him to neglect his teeth, which have decayed or fallen out.

Barry was among dozens of people in town to attend each of the four sessions, the last of which took place yesterday afternoon.

“It’s been a godsend, without a doubt,” said Barry, dressed in a smart tie, blazer and blue hair.

“I lost my teeth to addiction and alcoholism. I was ignored on the streets. But there’s no judgment here, you’re treated like a human being.

Dozens of homeless people received free dental and eye care as part of a Portsmouth University community outreach program this month. Photo: Habibur Rahman

“There are people there who would do nasty things to me. It’s dangerous to be on the streets. It’s scary. But here I feel so much more confident.

The idea for the clinic was born from the idea of ​​Janani Sivabalan, a clinical teacher at the dental academy, who wanted to find out about the barriers homeless people faced when seeking dental care.

She said: “We knew from an outreach activity with the homeless led by our students before the pandemic that there was a huge need for routine dental care among the city’s homeless population, but when we opened our doors for follow-up treatment, only a small handful showed up.

“I wanted to try to see if we could better understand the barriers these people face in accessing dental care, so we can help more people.”

Around 40 homeless people in Portsmouth have been offered free dental treatment over the past four weeks at the University of Portsmouth Photo: Habibur Rahman

Janani added that the past four weeks of helping some of the city’s most vulnerable have been an emotional roller coaster.

“We had students and patients crying because they were so emotional,” she said. “The students were moved by the stories they heard. It was a real learning experience for them.

Barry said finding dental treatment while on the street had been next to impossible and was full of praise for the Portsmouth team.

“The gratitude I have, I really can’t express,” he added. “There should be more places like this because it’s a lifesaver for me.

“The four weeks here have made a huge difference in my life. I feel more confident in myself. I had a few fillings and a lot of work. I feel so much better. I had all the shaboom.

Naomi Shuff, 29, is in her third year of dental hygiene studies and was part of the project. She said: “I really enjoyed this experience. I would come back and do it if I could. It was fantastic.

Dental students at the University of Portsmouth Dental Academy, William Beatty Building, Portsmouth, on Wednesday 15th December 2021 Photo: Habibur Rahman

In addition to offering free dental care, the university has worked alongside its in-house eye clinic service to provide additional treatment for the homeless.

A total of one hundred students, employees and volunteers took part in this innovative project.

Professor Chris Louca, director of the dental academy and dentist, said the program was the first of its kind in the UK to combine students from three dental disciplines and the eye clinic.

He said: “What we do is unique. I don’t believe anyone else offers a similar service to dental students, who are dental nurses, dental hygienists, and dental therapists.

“We are the first in the country to offer clinics like this for homeless people run by dental students – it’s a first, no one else has done this… It’s a winner- winner in every way.”

Although the four-week clinic, which received £2,700 in funding from the Oral and Dental Research Trust, has now ended, Prof Louca hoped it could start again in the future.

Barry was eager to see it play out again and said, “It’s heartbreaking that it’s the last day.” Without it, I’d still be spinning with bad teeth. Finding a dentist was very difficult. It was a lifesaver.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron

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