Dental Help for the Homeless

Dental Help for the Homeless

Dental students performing dental examination for the participants, with Professor Edward Lo (far right) overseeing the work

"We are not just providing treatment and service for their teeth and oral health knowledge; we have to show we care and talk to them."

HKU dental students are using their training to help the most underprivileged people in society - the homeless and those who have little material wealth or resources.

Working with St Barnabas Society and Home, which provides meals and temporary accommodation to people in need, the students have provided basic dental care and oral health education to those who could otherwise not afford to see a dentist.

They held two sessions, in 2014 and again last year, and provided basic clinical examinations and treatments such as topical fluoride treatment, simple fillings and identifying further treatment needs for about 60 service clients selected by St Barnabas. They also provided them with individual consultations on oral health.

Professor Edward Lo Chin-man, Chair Professor of Dental Public Health in the Faculty of Dentistry, oversaw last year's sessions in which both postgraduates and senior undergraduates participated.

"We were able to work efficiently because our collaborator, St Barnabas, has experience with these clients and was able to explain to them what to expect from us and what the limitations were. We could not do everything in their centre, but we were able to perform basic treatments that they needed urgently and give them information on how to seek subsidised dental services, for example, if they needed extractions or false teeth," he said.

Most of the subjects were older adults who may have gone to a dentist in the past but for personal or financial reasons were no longer able to do so. Apart from managing the clients’ expectations, Professor Lo said the students also had to be prepared for dealing with this group.

"The clinical procedures we did there were not complicated, although we had to modify some techniques because we did not have access to a full range of equipment. But what the students really needed to learn was how to have a caring attitude for these poor people. We are not just providing treatment and service for their teeth and oral health knowledge; we have to show we care and talk to them. We tried to prepare the students by telling them not to be surprised that the clients had neglected their oral health because they also had a lot of other problems to handle. After all, they are a neglected group in our affluent society. We're trying to lessen their burden, not aiming for perfect restoration of their oral health."

Both the recipients and St Barnabas were happy with the project and Professor Lo said he hoped they could repeat it this summer.

The project was supported by the KE Fund, while toothpaste companies also donated toothbrushes and toothpaste to distribute to the recipients.