Innovative Plymouth learning disability dental project to be showcased at international conference
Service users at the Plymouth Highbury Trust with staff from the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise and dental students from the University

An innovative dental project pioneered in Plymouth which develops adults with learning disabilities to become dental health ambassadors to their peers, is to be showcased at the annual Association for Dental Education in Europe conference.

The event will be held in Szeged, Hungary, at the end of this month and a team from the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) will present the work that they and dental students from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, have achieved with the charity the Plymouth Highbury Trust.

The PDSE and the Plymouth Highbury Trust have joined forces to develop an innovative dental ambassador scheme which sees those using the charity trained to support their peers with good oral health practices and awareness.

It is the first time that such a dental initiative – where those with learning disabilities will assist their peers – has been introduced in the UK.

The Plymouth Highbury Trust supports adults with a learning disability across the city. Part of its work includes a self-advocacy organisation called Plymouth People First which runs speaking-up groups across the city and which has over 120 members.

The charity works closely with PDSE and its Community Engagement Team, not least with the involvement of dental students from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry as part of their training.

The dental ambassador training programme equips 10 to 12 Plymouth Highbury Trust clients at a time with the knowledge and skills to reinforce key oral health messages with a focus on brushing, diet and access to dental care. The aim is to build confidence and understanding so that the ambassadors become effective support for their peers.

The training programme lasts six weeks and uses fun and engaging methods.

At the end of the training programme the dental ambassadors give a presentation to an invited audience of Plymouth Highbury Trust supporters, and go on to use their new skills to encourage good oral health among others who use the charity’s services.

Since graduating from the project the dental ambassadors have trained 57 other people with a disability and provided a presentation to health and education professionals at a local school for disabled children. The thinking behind the programme is being considered by charity Mencap as its next national health delivery project.

Dr Robert Witton, Director of the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise, commented: 

“Presenting the work we have achieved with the Plymouth Highbury Trust at such a prestigious international conference is a great opportunity for us to spread the word about what we are pioneering here in Plymouth. We will be presenting to a special interest group and we hope that as the result of our presentation we can further our work still further.”