The mobile dental service treating homeless people in the borough
PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 August 2019
A mobile dental service that treats homeless people in Tower Hamlets and Newham is celebrating one year on the road this summer.
The community dental services van is a fully-functioning surgery on wheels and can treat any dental issue patients have.
Cleaning, fillings, making dentures and taking out teeth the most common jobs, but the service is not without its challenges.
Dentist Isabel Margetts said: "We're working with a diverse population and use of drugs and alcohol can also complicate things.
"Many of my patients lead chaotic lives and they struggle with oral hygiene, but that's what makes it interesting.
"Those who seek us out are positive about the treatment and grateful for what we can do for them.
"Some patients have long standing problems and being able to resolve this, or make improvements for them, is a good feeling.
"I know I am making a real difference to people's lives."
The Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust van works a rolling rota across three London boroughs, including Hackney, and has links with homeless soup kitchens, day centres and missions, which advertise the service.
GPs and those who work with homeless people also refer patients to it.
Recent patient Steve Cullen would use a Brillo pad to clean his teeth while living on the streets but says the service is helping him turn his life around.
The 42-year-old blames smoking crack cocaine for his tooth decay and loss of several teeth.
Mr Cullen, who has recently been given a room in a hostel, said: "My teeth are damaged from smoking and drinking and from taking drugs.
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"When I go for jobs I think they hold me back. They affect everything I do.
"I try not to smile so that no-one can see them - I'm always very conscious of my teeth.
"Having my teeth properly cleaned by a dentist and having my missing teeth replaced would make so much difference."
The mobile unit regularly parks outside the Doctors of the World clinic in Bethnal Green and visits other homeless projects and services, such as the Whitechapel Mission, the NEWway Project in East Ham and Bridges in Plaistow.
Anyone with no fixed address - which can include people who are sofa surfing, living in hostels or homeless - can just turn up and either be seen immediately or arrange to come back later in the day if the dentist is busy.
Dr Margetts said: "When people have no fixed address they often feel they can't register with a dentist, when actually they could, giving a care of address.
"However, sometimes these people are not very reliable at turning up for appointments, with some not having any way of telling the time.
"For this reason we are very flexible."
The dental team on board - including a dentist, a dental assistant, an admin assistant and a driver - usually see eight to 12 patients at a time.
"Some of the patients we see might not have seen a dentist in a very long time," Dr Margetts said.
"Some are alcoholics and some are drug addicts.
"They often only come to see us when things have got really bad and they are in pain.
"The dental hygiene of those living on the streets is usually very poor.
"We find that our patients are often very grateful - just doing something very small for them can make a big difference."