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Community engagement – get stuck in!
News that the Peninsula School of Dentistry dental students have carried out projects which have had real impact in the community is fabulous. They have gotten involved in projects working with primary school pupils, Age UK carers, the homeless and family nurses. With interests as diverse as head and neck cancer to sports people’s sugar consumption.
This is a reminder that raising the profile of your practice can be achieved in many ways and isn’t necessarily restricted to National Smile Month! Working with community projects is an all-year-round possibility. The results can make you glow with personal pride; it can enhance working relationships with staff and – make no mistake – it can get your practice known by a wider public in a very positive light.
So what can I do?
Taking our cue from the students, here are some ideas to think about. These are all practical ideas that take a little time and few resources, but can be fun and rewarding.
- Approach organisations like ‘Sure Start’ with ideas for talks focused on pregnancy, breastfeeding and weaning, with an emphasis on reducing intake of sugary food and drinks, and salt. One such project resulted in advice and support for parents-to-be, with cookery demonstrations and a recipe leaflet. Information leaflets being given out could include your practice contacts.
- Work with staff and pupils at primary schools to create fun activities to help pupils understand more about their own oral health. In the past I have organised poster competitions and designed leaflets for pupils to take home. Once I helped develop a clown act to travel around schools, but you can just give a talk. Make it more fun to learn more about teeth using models and puppets.
- Work with local charities, such as the Salvation Army. Teach service users and residents how to maintain good oral health and access dental treatment.
- Work with community nurses to help provide support and advice to young mothers. Putting together an information pack on the care of milk teeth is a simple and cost-effective way to promote your practice.
- Specific charities, like Age UK, give support to carers through a number of activities, and this can involve the oral health needs of those in their care. Offer to help the carers with brushing techniques for the older person, dietary advice, denture care and how to spot common dental diseases.
- Approach sports clubs to raise awareness of the hidden dangers to teeth of sugary energy drinks and snacks. The Peninsula dental students produced a web-based resource of advice and suggestions which could be used by all sports people.
A little investment in time can really pay for itself many times over
The wider local community is your pool of potential patients; becoming a community player is really importance in being accepted by those people who could become patients. There is spin-off publicity that is priceless, in the form of newspaper and local radio interest, in all forms of community commitment.
Involving staff in these projects is both enormous fun and a way of cementing relationships. It is also a way of inviting feedback from the community on dental services, which helps inform future business planning. Critically, this helps with meeting the Care Quality Commission standards for involving local people in planning the provision of care.
Ticks all boxes!
Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor