A trip to the dentist is a luxury people living on the streets cannot afford.
But staff at Sharoe Green Dental Practice in Fulwood believe oral healthcare should be available to all and offer free checkups once a month at The Foxton Centre, Preston.
Graeme Fisher, principal dental surgeon, leads the initiative, which sees a small team of dental workers visiting the site in Knowsley Street to offer advice and treatment to service users in a bid to prevent poor oral healthcare.
Poor oral health can include painful or bleeding gums and rotting loose teeth, which is associated with gum disease, as well as mouth ulcers.
He said: “We started going in February when two of my staff nurses came up with the idea of doing charity work. We knew of hairdressers giving hair cuts to the homeless, so we thought about offering dentistry.
“If we come in once a month, they can have access to oral healthcare, as a lot would need treatment, pain relief or even rotten teeth extracting.
“We set up a mobile dentist’s unit and bring and take away all our equipment but we store a mobile chair here.
“We do all this voluntarily, so it is self-funded with donations from our suppliers.”
The team visit on a Wednesday, to coincide with The Foxton Centre’s health awareness session.
Graeme adds: “We see between 13 and 15 people every time we come.
“Over the year, we have probably seen more than 100 people.
“The main work we do is removing rotten teeth, putting in fillings and helping with any pain.
“We also offer dentures for people with teeth missing.
“We find a lot of neglect, as people who are homeless don’t have basic access to oral healthcare, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“We see a lot of tooth decay, missing teeth and gum disease following a long period of neglect.
“A lot of homeless people drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs and as a result, they tend to have more oral health problems associated with that, compounded with the fact they do not have regular access to basic dentist care.”
One of the most important factors involving oral healthcare is detecting mouth cancer and Graeme is keen to ensure people living on the streets are checked over.
Research from Queen’s University Belfast has found that people with poor oral health are more likely to develop liver cancer.
Graeme says: “Every time someone goes to see the dentist, they check for potential signs of oral cancer, which is increasing in the UK.
“We have already seen two suspicious cancer cases and referred them to the hospital.
“As with any cancer, the earlier it is detected, the better chances of survival.”
The addition of the free dental service is certainly welcomed by users at the centre, as Graeme reflects: “Members are extremely grateful for the treatment, especially when they are in pain.
“A few people have had no teeth, so we have given them dentures and it improves their self-confidence in how they look.
“They are also able to chew food and improves their quality of life.”
Graeme adds he hopes other dental surgeries will offer their services to people living on the streets.
He says: “It would be great if more dentists would get involved in doing this, so we could offer more sessions.
“At the moment, myself, two other dentists and a dental therapist take it in turns each month to go, but if others got involved, this would be a weekly thing.
“Maybe it could roll out to other areas of the country.”
The team at Sharoe Green Dental Practice, based in Sharoe Green Lane, will next offer check ups for service users at The Foxton Centre on Wednesday, November 20, from 9.30am until 12.30pm.