I had a very interesting morning today. I was invited to speak about teeth at a homeless shelter in St James's Park at the Passage Day Centre. The topic was 'Talking Teeth with Dr Flora'.The Passage Day Centre provides a service to over 200 homeless men and women on a daily basis. Their mission is to provide resources which encourage, inspire and challenge homeless people to transform their lives. My job today was to talk about teeth and educate the residents on the importance of good oral hygiene. The group was very enthusiastic to find out more about what I had to say.
September is the National Colgate Oral health Month this month, and Colgate is promoting what they are calling their 'healthy mouth mission'. I thought this was very relevant to the small group who had gathered to listen to me speak, so we touched on the following topics:
1. Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, last thing at night and on one other occasion.
Based on our discussions, it was established that the group mainly brushed once a day. This tended to be in the morning. The nights they found themselves sleeping on the streets, they would not brush their teeth. They did not always brush with a Fluoride toothpaste – the type of toothpaste they used was dependant on the cost of the toothpaste – the cheapest brand being the most favourable.
2. Just spit after toothbrushing, rinsing washes all the fluoride away.
I am not sure how much agree with this, as not rinsing after brushing would mean having a taste of toothpaste in your mouth all day, so we agreed that a gentle rinse may be more favourable.
3. Avoid toothbrushing straight after acidic food and drinks to help prevent enamel erosion.
We had a debate about whether to brush before or after breakfast. I explained my reasons for encouraging brushing after breakfast (please see my previous post). We also discussed how it would be best to brush at least 30minutes after having had an acidic drink such as a fruit juice. We also used this opportunity to discuss diet and the importance of avoiding acidic drinks like pop such as coca cola – whether full fat or diet.
4. Keeping your gums healthy by cleaning between your teeth using floss or interdental brushes.
Our discussions showed that none of the group flossed their teeth – mainly due to the cost of buying extra dental gadgets, but also lack of ease of flossing. I demonstrated the use of interdental brushes and flosspicks to the group, which they all agreed made the job a lot easier. I left them with plenty of samples to ensure they will hopefully be flossing for a long time after I left.
I thoroughly enjoyed my session at the shelter. I learnt a lot, and the group were very complimentary about the information I gave. The feedback I got was very interesting, but one of the main conclusions I deduced was that they were not happy with the NHS service they were being provided. One gentleman expressed his discontent at having had to wait for 2 years to have a set of denture made – this procedure would normally take an average of 4 weeks. Another lady had been back to visit the dentist 5 times to have the same tooth treated, and this was still causing her a lot of pain on chewing. They felt they were being treated 'less favourably' because they were homeless and felt that maybe if they were not homeless they would have received a better standard of dental care. I explained that I did not feel this was the case, as even people who pay for NHS treatment may still be subject to similar treatment. After spending 30 minutes trying to convince the group they were not being victimised due to their circumstances, I realised I needed to do something other than talk and talk and talk. These people were in need of dental treatment, and I am a dentist. So why can't I help them? As a result, I agreed we would meet at the Covent Garden Dental Spa on a date in October and I will provide my new friends with the dental care they have been missing and deserve, compliments of the Covent Garden Dental Spa. This is my contribution to putting a smile on the homeless faces of London.