Largest student cohort yet deliver community dental interventions

Community engagement is a proud part of Peninsula Dental School at the University of Plymouth, with dozens of students working alongside local organisations to benefit local people each year.

Now the largest cohort yet, more than 100 students, have planned, designed and delivered their projects – with just six weeks to complete them.

The annual Inter-Professional Engagement (IPE) module is part of the undergraduate curriculum for student dental professionals, and this year saw students work in groups alongside 14 organisations across Plymouth and the surrounding area.

While COVID-19 brought about challenges, the module was delivered in person, with students meeting more than 250 people in a COVID secure way.

Working collaboratively with their local community and host organisation, the module sees second-year students from the BDS Dentistry and BSc Dental Therapy and Hygiene courses at the University of Plymouth design and deliver a health improvement project.

Co-ordinated by Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) the module enables students to work with their community to adopt positive, healthy lifestyles. Co-production is at the heart of the work, providing opportunities to explore creative and engaging delivery styles working in partnership with their host organisation and neighbourhood. 

The groups saw their planning culminate in a series of creative engagement activities including oral health training for staff at Four Greens Community Trust and Age UK Plymouth, dental awareness drop-ins sharing top tips for mouth care with Plymouth Community Homes residents, St Luke’s Hospice and Barnardos and a walk and talk session with Active for All.

Students also worked alongside teachers at Longcause Community Special School where they joined pupils in the classroom to hold a teaching session talking all things teeth, challenged Active Men Group at Elder Tree to an indoor curling competition and joined other health professionals and community colleagues at St Budeaux and Barne Barton Wellbeing Hub’s Health Fair. 

The full list of host organisations were:

  • Active for All at Improving Lives
  • Plymouth Community Homes
  • Brook Green Centre for Learning
  • Longcause Community Special School
  • Four Greens Community Trust
  • Elder Tree
  • St Luke’s Hospice
  • Plymouth Soup Run
  • St Budeaux and Barne Barton Wellbeing Hub
  • Young Carers Group
  • Age UK Plymouth
  • Nurses for Children in Care Team
  • Transforming Plymouth Together
  • Barnardo’s

Abby Nelder, PDSE Community Engagement Programme Officer said: 

“This year has yet again posed many challenges for engaging with our community, with ongoing COVID uncertainty but also with the largest number of students in the history of IPE and shortest time to deliver their projects. I’m proud to have been able to support our students and I’m grateful as always to our amazing local organisations who continue to work alongside us in-spite of all the uncertainty. I’ve been able to see students develop valuable skills which they will be able to take forward with them into their future practice.”  

Larissa Milden, Manager of host organisation, Active for All, said: 

“Working with the students has definitely benefitted our members. Some have already told me about their new morning routines including brushing and another said he is going to make a conscious effort to start brushing his teeth at night. Another had said their anxiety about attending the dentist had reduced significantly after meeting such lovely dental students.”

Professor Robert Witton, Director of Community-based Dentistry at the University of Plymouth, and Chief Executive of Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE), said: 

“The module gives students the opportunity to work directly with members of the community who commonly experience poor oral health or may struggle to access it, and to develop and deliver a project in response to a group’s needs. This provides students with insight into the health and wellbeing of various population groups, and to introduce ‘social accountability’ as a key part of professional practice.

“Despite the continuing challenges of COVID, a number of projects have taken place face to face in the community this year with our largest cohort of students and host organisations ever. I am really grateful to everyone who has made this possible in such difficult circumstances.”

<p>Robert Witton</p>

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