Oral Health Disparities are Strongest among People Experiencing Homelessness

TOGETHER WE GIVE THE GIFT OF A HEALTHY MOUTH

“I’m newly homeless,” he said. He rocked side-to-side on his bike as he sipped the last drop of water from his canteen, never making eye contact with the outreach team. He chose his words carefully, not wanting to reveal too much. It was evident, it was the first time he had to disclose to another person he had no home, and was trying to simply survive. 

“How long have you been experiencing homelessness?” asked AHCH Dental Hygienist, Nutan Patel.

“I’ve been homeless for 7 days now. I’m not used to the cold nights. It’s scary out here. I miss my own bed,” he said. His head somehow hung lower after he opened up about his situation. 

“I’m sorry you are going through this,” said Nutan. “Are you familiar with Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless? I’m Nutan and I am a dental hygienist with the dental program. May I hand you a card and maybe a oral hygiene kit so at least you have a toothbrush and toothpaste.” 

“Sure. Thank you,” he said, and reached out and accepted the care package. He opened up his backpack and squeezed it in between clothes and a pair of shoes. “What’s the card for?”

“When you’re ready, come see us at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless,” said Nutan. 

AHCH Dental Hygienist Nutan Patel announces herself as she approaches a makeshift shelter during an outreach.

In partnership with the Hope Works Outreach Team, AHCH collaborated on an outreach, the first of its kind. The outreach team included Joseph, Abraham, and Jenny of Hope Works and Nutan of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless. Also, a team of two Albuquerque Police Department officers went along for safety. In the span of 4 hours, the outreach team completed 50 engagements with people at several parks, alleyways, and an encampment. It is where Nutan and the outreach team discovered, after crossing rail road tracks and crawling through a fence, where 10 people were living in a makeshift shelter hidden under a dome of dried tree branches. Individual shelters were constructed out of dilapidated wood pallets, tattered blankets, and mossy pieces of cardboard. One of the men requested, “I know you all mean well, but can you do your business right away because we don’t want the cops to know we live here. We don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Nutan dropped off extra oral hygiene kits, referral cards to the dental program, while the Hope Works team provided packets of clean socks and underwear, and cups of hot soup and water; then back through the fence they climbed, crossed the rail road tracks, and back into the outreach van.

October was National Dental Hygiene Month. Dental hygienists, like Nutan, are the front-line professionals when it comes to dental health. They work closely with dentists, but they do more than just clean your teeth. They examine teeth and mouth for signs of injury or disease, such as gingivitis. Dental hygienists are also teachers, as they help children and adults learn how to clean their teeth effectively.

Health care can be most effective when it is integrated with housing assistance, as stable housing not only improves health in and of itself, but also serves as a platform for consistently delivering health care and services.

The Hope Works Outreach Team (Joseph, Abraham, and Jenny) and AHCH Dental Hygienist Nutan Patel

However, limited access to dental care increases homeless people’s high risk for oral diseases, often resulting in loss of function, self-esteem and well-being. Nutan’s coordinated oral health screenings are filling the gaps in dental services for the vulnerable and hard-to reach populations. 

Be the change. Increase access and be a hero. Donate today. 

The following programs were integrated into the oral screenings project in October: Medical, Behavioral Health, and Harm Reduction.

Dental health is imperative to a person’s ability to eat well, express oneself, maintain self-confidence, and remain free of pain from such conditions as abscesses. All of these factors are essential to a person’s capacity to get, or stay, healthy, acquire housing and/or employment, and transition out of homelessness.

Your donation to AHCH ensures access to quality health care and you make us part of the community’s response to ending homelessness. Please give to sustain the delivery of care to people where they are at. 

Walk-in visits for emergencies or toothaches are available Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., however patients will be accepted throughout the day if needed. Contact the AHCH Dental Program at 505-242-8288.

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