“Nothing will stop us helping our community”: University celebrates online dental intervention success

While COVID-19 has made life challenging for everyone, Peninsula Dental School has adapted by delivering its unique community engagement work online for the first time.

The annual Inter-Professional Engagement module is part of the undergraduate curriculum for student dental professionals, and this year helped more than 200 people across Plymouth and the surrounding area.

Students from the BDS Dentistry and BSc Dental Therapy and Hygiene programmes at the University of Plymouth worked with 12 host organisations across the city to deliver oral health and information sessions.

From making instructional tooth brushing videos, to providing PPE activity packs for young people with additional needs, the students came up with a huge variety of intervention ideas that they delivered remotely in their individual groups.

Caring for Carers at Improving Lives Plymouth was one of the host organisations, and manager Lee Sewrey said: 

“The students were all very focussed and engaged with and listened to the needs of unpaid carers and the people they care for. They produced some very informative information and videos for us to use on our website pages. We might not have been able to meet face-to-face, but working with the students from the Peninsula Dental School has been an excellent experience.”

With the uncertainty around COVID-19 restrictions at the time of planning, the academic team from the University and Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) made an early decision to run the module online.

And the results have been beyond what they expected, as Abby Nelder, Community Engagement Programme Officer, explains.

“The ongoing pandemic has meant that engagement has had to be different from previous years,” she said. “But it’s actually presented the groups with a unique opportunity to consider how to share health and wellbeing messages in a relevant and engaging way. Over the past few months I’ve seen the students gain a better understanding of the needs of their community in a rapidly changing climate, and they’ve been truly fantastic. We could not do this module without the amazing support of our host organisations who, in spite of COVID-19, worked in partnership with our students to develop some fantastic projects this year. Huge thanks, as always for their continued commitment to this module.”

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. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been challenging with limited ability to engage in the community. While this is unfortunate, the students have risen to the challenge – and it shows that nothing will stop us helping our community.”

The IPE host organisations this year were:

  • Family Nurse Partnership
  • Brook Green Centre for Learning
  • Elder Tree Befriending Service        
  • Active for All, Improving Lives Plymouth
  • Veterans and Families Hub, Improving Lives Plymouth
  • Caring for Carers, Improving Lives Plymouth

  • Plymouth Information and Advice for Special Education Needs (PIAS)
  • Homelessness Support Services in Plymouth
  • Barnardo’s Plymouth
  • Plymouth Community Homes
  • Coop Member Pioneers
  • Nurses for Children in Care, Livewell SW

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