Homeless given free dental and eye care at university

Two dental students work on patient

First to offer such a service to homeless population

  • 15 December 2021
  • 2 min read

Dozens of the city’s homeless have been given free dental and eye care at a University of Portsmouth community outreach programme this month.

The university’s Dental Academy and Eye Clinic teamed up to offer free dentistry, eye tests and prescription glasses to anyone living rough.

The University is believed to be the first to offer a collaborative dental and eye clinic service to the homeless population.

There are an estimated 100-plus homeless people in the region.

So far, about 25 people have received dental treatment or glasses.

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

Janani Sivabalan, Clinical teaching fellow, Dental Academy

The idea was the brainchild of Dental Academy clinical teaching fellow Janani Sivabalan, who wanted to find out what barriers this hard to reach group faced in seeking dental care.

She said: “We knew from an outreach activity with the homeless run 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 tiny handful turned up.

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

The Dental Academy educates dental nurses, dental hygienists, dental therapists and dentists who treat patients within an NHS primary care setting, under the supervision of qualified staff, including its director Professor Chris Louca.

Ms Sivabalan approached homeless charities in the city and worked with them to develop specialist clinics, offering each patient up to two hours in the dentist’s chair.

She also asked the University’s Eye Clinic director Daniel Stride if he would be interested in helping those who turned up, and he was quick to agree.

We have so much specialist equipment and highly trained staff, it was a no-brainer to extend our offer to the region’s homeless.

Daniel Stride, Director, University Eye Clinic

He said: “The Eye Clinic has a history of helping those for whom high street opticians might not always be the easiest or best option. For example, we work with children with autism and other disabilities and adults with highly complex eye problems, all of whom tend to need longer appointments. We have so much specialist equipment and highly trained staff, it was a no-brainer to extend our offer to the region’s homeless.”

The Eye Clinic was given free frames and lenses to help the homeless by International Eyewear and Zeiss Vision UK.

The Dental Academy and Eye Clinic set aside four hours to run two consecutive clinics for up to 16 people. The first two sessions were fully booked, via homeless charities, within a day of being made live.

The Dental Academy offered homeless people free transport to and from their appointments.

Of the new patients who have come forward, the dental team have found the most common need is for scaling and fillings, and some emergency treatment, including tooth extractions. Of those seen at the Eye Clinic, most had not had their sight tested for many years and the most common problem was short sightedness, for which prescription glasses were prescribed and given.

The last session at the clinics will be on December 15, 2021.

Ms Sivabalan will then collate the patients’ responses to a questionnaire they were invited to complete during their visit to see what lessons can be learned.

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