Dental project to address oral health awareness and need at The Elder Tree
Service users from The Elder Tree with dental students and the eat-well rainbow

Dental students from Plymouth University are to work with The Elder Tree to help raise awareness about oral health, improve access to NHS dental care and bring dental issues to the centre of the service provided by The Elder Tree to its members.

The project is coordinated by the Community Engagement Team at the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise.

The Elder Tree is a befriending service for vulnerable people in Plymouth over the age of 50. Its aim is to promote independent living and social inclusion via a range of activities such as one-to-one befriending, weekly quizzes and craft events, physical exercise (including sessions designed for people with limited mobility) and active volunteering.

It works with individuals and with groups that represent and support older vulnerable people – and it is always on the lookout for more groups whose members could benefit from The Elder Tree service.

The Elder Tree has not included an element dedicated to oral health before, and the project to be run by the students will help to fill that gap.

As part of the project, dental students will talk to users of The Elder Tree service to establish which health and oral issues affect them the most. From that they will produce an information booklet which will include advice about oral health care and how to access NHS dental care via the Dental Education Facilities (DEFs) in which the students are trained.

DEFs are purpose-built teaching clinics where local people receive NHS dental care from students under the supervision of qualified dental health professionals. There are two in Plymouth (Derriford and Devonport) and one each in Truro and Exeter, where a new enlarged DEF with wider facilities is currently under construction.

As well as a print version of the information booklet, the students will also produce a version in braille.

The students will also play a role in the befriending process by befriending services users at The Elder Tree via an eat-well rainbow, a graphic representation which shows how foods of different colours contribute to good nutrition – which is itself vital to good oral health.

Robbie Nairn OBE, Chief Executive of The Elder Tree, commented: 

“The students have hit the ground running and they have been an instant hit with the old people they are working with at Elder Tree Befriending in Efford. It has been very amusing and at times touching to see both generations interact so well and the event has been the highlight of the week for some of our more socially isolated beneficiaries. The engagement throughout has been positive and it is extremely refreshing to watch the project developing, especially how the students have engaged with a challenging group who are more 'steradent’ than toothbrush.”