Charity Dentists Filling Gaps In NHS Funding

Image representing Charity Dentists Filling Gaps In NHS Funding

Ian Wilson explains the partnership between the Real Junk Food Project, local dental volunteers and Dentaid in providing emergency dental care for vulnerable members of the community.

A number of months ago a group of my dental colleagues and I were in discussion about whether there was an opportunity for local volunteer dentists, to help the vulnerable people in the local community who have no access to dentistry. We also thought this might be an opportunity for younger dentists to gain some valuable experience shadowing experienced dental colleagues and mentors.

Looking specifically in the Kirklees area it was proposed that homeless people, migrant workers and vulnerable adults were to be offered emergency dental treatment as part of a new partnership between the Real Junk Food Project, local dental volunteers and Dentaid. These people have no other access to dentistry for a variety of reasons – ie no fixed abode, chaotic lifestyles or no NHS number. It was felt that the main thrust of the service was to offer pain relieving emergency dentistry coupled with prevention advice given to those who attend. The hosting clinic would open out of hours, operating separately from the NHS and with dentists & dental nurses volunteering their time.

“I’d like to think all dentists joined the profession because they want to help people,” quoting Nick O’Donovan, who owns the hosting clinic. 

Over the last 3 months of the 'pilot' Dewsbury Dentaid project we have seen many patients from the vulnerable members of the community, but also those who haven't been able to access NHS pain relieving services for a number of reasons.A 19-year-old patient told us she had been unable to register with an NHS dentist because no practices in Dewsbury were accepting new patients. Other patients have included a woman with only one tooth who had not seen a dentist for 28 years, and a man whose face was swollen with an abscess. A group of Hungarian patients even arrived with their own translator.

The Dewsbury Dentaid project not only reaches the people who traditionally have missed the ‘normal channels’ for care, but takes a major step forward in closing the equality gap. If this project were combined with additional routine care provision, we could dentally rehabilitate these patients back into routine care systems. It works in conjunction with the Real Junk Food Project as without nutrition and healthy food advice any dental prevention is futile. (This also applies to diabetes and obesity initiatives).

During my time with the project it has been an immense privilege to work with colleagues in caring for some of the most vulnerable in society, on our doorstep. This was one of the reasons why I originally came into Dentistry, it also encompasses the values that started my Africa journey in 1990, and led me to being part of the team who started Bridge2Aid in 2002.

The BDA are supportive of the project stating that they had received reports of people in the area pulling their own teeth out with pliers.

“There are dentists that can do the work, but the NHS will simply not pay for it, and the patients we are talking about here do not have the money to pay privately for their dental treatment," said the BDA's Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen

Kathryn Hilliam, from NHS England, has acknowledged that problems exist in West Yorkshire, but said they were working to tackle the issues. "This work will then help shape the future commissioning of dental services in the area,"


Posted by Gemma

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Having worked with bridge 2aid in 2010, I found working and helping less privelaged people was so rewarding. Was interesting to read similar projects are happening closer to home.

Posted by Karen mccaig on