Smile4life training to help improve oral health amongst people experiencing homelessness

New training resources developed by researchers at the University of Dundee for practitioners working to improve the oral health of homeless people will be launched at an event in the city tomorrow.

The Smile4life research team at the Dental Health Services Research Unit (DHSRU) and their partners in NHS Education for Scotland will be joined by Maureen Watt MSP, Minister for Public Health, to launch ‘Better oral care for homeless people: integrating health and social care’ at the Apex City Quay Hotel on Thursday, 26th February. A second training event promoting the new Smile4life training resources will be held in Glasgow next month.

The Smile4Life project grew from a survey of more than 850 people experiencing homelessness across Scotland. It found that homeless people had a higher than normal rate of decayed and missing teeth, suggesting that many attended for dental treatment only when in an emergency and when experiencing pain. The report recommended that planning for good oral health should be integrated into national health and homelessness policies and the project continues to work towards this aim.

This week’s event will promote Smile4life, and encourage partnership working between NHS oral health staff and the third-sector homelessness staff, according to Laura Beaton from the Oral Health and Health Research Programme, DHSRU.

“Integrated working is the key aim of Smile4life,” she said. “When the project was launched, the various Health Boards and other organisations were encouraged to develop strategies to work with homeless people to try and improve their oral health.

“While this has led to notable successes, there is an inconsistency in delivery and approach so we are launching the new Smile4life training resources and the associated online community of practice developed by NHS Education for Scotland, to ensure that homeless people in each health board area benefit from the same level of oral care being available across Scotland.

“Oral health is an issue for many homeless people and should be addressed through wider strategies and policies aimed at helping homeless populations. Poor dental health affects people’s ability to eat, speak and smile, and so it affects their quality of life and psychological wellbeing. Dental anxiety among homeless people is about double the rate found in the rest of the population so we see oral health as being part of the wider set of problems that many homeless people face.

“Many homeless people know they need help with their teeth but often other priorities prevent them from seeking treatment so our aim is to incorporate this process into the whole range of services which are accessed by homeless people.”

Ms Watt will address the audience on Oral Health Inequalities while other presentations will be given by NHS Education for Scotland, oral health researchers, and NHS staff.

The Smile4life project has been led by the Dental Health Services Research Unit at the University, working with NHS boards across Scotland and several charities working with Scotland’s homeless population.


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