Dental student project makes a difference to isolated over 50s

A project carried out by dental students at Plymouth University with the Elder Tree Befriending Service in Plymouth, has made a real difference to its service users.

The Elder Tree Befriending Service aims to prevent isolation and loneliness in people over the age of 50 in Plymouth. As part of their project, the dental students spoke with service users, managers and staff and found a way to alleviate loneliness while at the same time providing health living and oral care advice.

The students worked with service users to develop an eat-well rainbow, which helped to promote key messages around maintaining a balanced diet. The students also used their feedback to create a holistic health booklet with oral and general health advice.

The booklet will now be used by the Elder Tree Befriending Service for all its service users, and there are plans to produce a Braille version.

At the end of the project the students handed out gifts to service users, including a jigsaw puzzle featuring pictures from their visits.

The project was very popular with service users from the Elder Tree Befriending Service. Comments included: “A lovely group of future dentists, with helpful advice”; “Such a pleasure to have met them all and the book is very informative”; and, “The best part of this was the friendly advice they gave us.”

Robbie Nairn, Chief Executive of the Elder Tree Befriending Service, said: 

“The students took the challenge of working with a group of socially isolated and vulnerable elders who were more Steradent than Oral B in their stride. They engaged with our beneficiaries at every level and joined in and led planned activities with real enthusiasm- they were most attentive and had good empathy with what were a challenging audience. I was particularly impressed with their teamwork throughout the project.” 

Jacqui Sankey is one of the students who worked with the Elder Tree Befriending Service. She said: 

“We have enjoyed our project thoroughly and feel it was a success. Projects such as this are great experience for us. Not only do they help us to get to know and understand the oral health needs of different sectors of the community, it also helps us to identify how, as dentists, we can make a difference to people’s oral health beyond the dental clinic.”

The project is part of the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry’s Inter Professional Engagement programme which sees dental students undertake a number of projects in the community designed to raise oral health awareness and to improve access to dental care. The programme is delivered by the Community Engagement Team at the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise.