Expert judges of the dental student community projects. Left to right: Stephen Hancocks OBE, Bridget Ashton, Rob Nelder and Kevin Elliston
Expert judges of the dental student community projects. Left to right: Stephen Hancocks OBE, Bridget Ashton, Rob Nelder and Kevin Elliston

From primary school pupils to Age UK carers, the homeless to family nurses, patients with head and neck cancer to sports people’s sugar consumption, Year 2 dental students at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry have carried out projects which have had real impact in the community.

Their work has culminated in a celebration of their projects held during National Smile Month.

In their second year dental students take part in the Inter-Professional Engagement programme, which sees them interact with a variety of groups within the wider community. The IPE scheme is run by the Community Engagement team at the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise and is designed to give dental students the widest possible experience across a broad social spectrum, while also contributing to oral health awareness and improving access to dental care – especially for the most vulnerable groups in the community.

This year the IPE programme has seen eight diverse projects which have all made a valuable contribution to the community and to the professional education of the participating students. The programme culminated in a symposium where each project was presented to an expert panel including Stephen Hancocks OBE, Editor of the British Dental Journal, Bridget Ashton, a general dental practitioner, Kevin Elliston from Public Health England and Rob Nelder, consultant in public health at Plymouth City Council.

The eight projects included:

  • Links with Sure Start in Plymouth at the LARK Children’s Centre, which focused on pregnancy, breastfeeding and weaning, with an emphasis on reducing intake of sugary food and drinks, and salt. The project resulted in advice and support for parents-to-be and new parents, with cookery demonstrations and a recipe leaflet.
  • Working with staff and pupils at Ford Park primary school, where students created a number of fun activities to help pupils understand more about their own oral health. These included games, a catchy brushing song to learn, as well as dressing up as a dentist and learning more about teeth using models and puppets. 
  • Working with residents from the Salvation Army’s Devonport Lifehouse in Plymouth, to help them become more aware of how to maintain good oral health and access dental treatment. The students had several sessions with the residents and those in charge of their care. These sessions helped both the students and the residents to scope needs and how to address them. This included a visit to Devonport Lifehouse where students set out stations looking at tooth brushing, cleaning between teeth, denture care, diet, smoking and alcohol and the effect they have on teeth, and the facilities at the Dental Education Facilities.
  • Working with nurses from the Family Nurse Partnership Programme at Plymouth Community Healthcare, who provide support and advice to young mothers. Dental students provided the nurses with training and an information pack on the care of milk teeth, which they could then use with the young families in their care.
  • Taking Age UK carers through a number of activities and techniques which will help them look after the oral health needs of those in their care. The carers experienced brushing technique, flossing, dietary advice, denture care and how to spot common dental diseases – including the students demonstrating correct brushing technique on the carers themselves, and carers ‘designing’ toothbrushes for people who would otherwise find it hard to grip a regular brush.
  • Working with sport students from the University of St. Mark and St. John, to raise awareness of the hidden dangers to teeth of sugary energy drinks and snacks. The dental students produced a website-based resource of advice and suggestions which could be used by all sports people.
  • Interaction with staff from the Plymouth Stop Smoking Service to help improve communication between the two organisations and support the service’s users with raised oral health awareness and access to dental care. This helped to improve the referral process, so that those with dental problems caused by smoking get signposted to the Plymouth Stop Smoking Service and dental care as soon as possible. The students designed information leaflets for Plymouth Stop Smoking staff and for patients. They also made a video of someone who quit smoking using the service, which will be used to encourage dental patients who smoke to feel more confident about using the stop smoking service.
  • Creating a resource for local patients with head and neck cancer to share their experiences and improve access to post-operation dental care. The project resulted in the creation of PHANCS (Peninsula Head and Neck Cancer Support), a group for patients to share their experiences via a Facebook page and recommendations for a fast-track referral system for patients who have had treatment at Derriford Hospital to the Derriford Dental Education Facility.

Stephen Hancocks OBE, Editor of the British Dental Journal who was one of the judging panel for the IPE symposium, said: 

"The community projects carried out by dental students at Plymouth University leave me with huge inspiration and optimism for the future of the profession. The students' energy, commitment, excitement and skills bode well for the dentistry of tomorrow."