Oral health a major issue for Scotland's homeless – report

The Smile4Life report is based on a survey of more than 850 homeless people 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.

‘Oral health is an issue for many homeless people and should be addressed through wider strategies and policies aimed at helping homeless populations,’ said Professor Ruth Freeman, of the Dental Health Services Research Unit (DHSRU) at the University of Dundee.

‘Poor dental health obviously affects people’s ability to eat, speak and smile, and so it affects their quality of life and psychological wellbeing. For instance 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.

Professor Freeman said many of the homeless people surveyed realised they needed help with their teeth but often other priorities prevented them from seeking treatment. Therefore there is a need to provide appropriate oral health care for homeless people so they may see a dentist to monitor their oral health. It is suggested that this process should be incorporated into the whole range of services which are accessed by homeless people.’

The Smile4life project has been led by the DHSRU, working together with seven NHS boards across Scotland (Ayrshire & Arran, Forth Valley, Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Highland, Lanarkshire, Lothian and Tayside). The project team has also included input from the Scottish Council for Single Homeless and Glasgow Homelessness Network.

Robert Aldridge, Chief Executive of Scottish Council for Single Homeless, said, ‘It can be very difficult for homeless people to sustain continuity of care, to meet appointments made a long time in advance or to participate in health improvement activities. Maintaining contact with GPs, dentists and other professionals can be especially difficult if the household is accommodated temporarily some distance away.

‘Many homeless people are coping with a combination of very urgent and immediate issues. So health care and dental care slip down their list of priorities, only surfacing when the problem becomes acute and the need for attention is urgent.

‘This research demonstrates how important it is for homeless people not only to have access to emergency dental services, but also to regular dental treatment. It demonstrates quite starkly how embarrassed and inhibited people can feel when they have poor dental care. It shows how important it is for dental health services to be considered as a key element of health and homelessness action plans.’

The Smile4life report will be launched at an event at the University of Stirling on Thursday May 19th. Speakers at the event include Margie Taylor, Chief Dental Officer for Scotland.

The event runs from 9 am to 1 pm and is being held within the Dementia Services Development Centre in the Iris Murdoch Building at the University of Stirling.


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