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Adelaide’s homeless dental service treats 1000th patient

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A free dental clinic in Adelaide, helping homeless South Australians improve their quality of life, has treated its thousandth patient.

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Ted Thornbury found it difficult to eat when he broke his tooth in 2011, living at the Common Ground affordable housing centre in Adelaide’s CBD.

He was among the first patients to use the Community Outreach Dental Program, which has now treated more than 1000 vulnerable South Australians.

The clinic, open 9am to 5pm weekdays, provides dental care and education, through the University of Adelaide’s dental school, to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in Adelaide’s CBD.

Ted, a singer-songwriter, says he received “excellent” treatment at that first appointment – and he’s been back about a dozen times since.

“It’s been a great benefit … it gave me back my confidence,” he says.

“I lost several teeth after that first one and I was able to get a plate … so that I could get my smile back.

“To a degree, with singing, it can be an advantage to have more teeth, for better resonance.”

Dentists and supervised dentistry students provide treatment at the clinic for free, or with an optional donation.

Director Margie Steffens, who founded the service, says it helps people get back on their feet.

“People would say: ‘who would employ me when I’ve got no teeth?’” she says.

“What we’re trying to do is look after people … helping people realise that they can take charge (of their lives).

“Get rid of the pain (and) it makes a massive difference to their ability to engage socially again.

“It’s not only treatment, it’s actually trying to put some prevention in place.”

She says homeless South Australians often find it difficult to access primary dental care and end up in emergency departments when untreated dental ailments cause other health problems.

She says severe infections in the teeth and gums can spread to the heart and the brain – and that the clinic has seen patients at high risk.

People are referred to the service from homelessness services such as the Hutt Street Centre, the Salvation Army, Uniting Care Wesley, Street Link and St Vincent de Paul’s.

The University of Adelaide has recently been awarded a $6000 grant from the Australian Dental Health Foundation Community Service and the Wrigley Company Foundation to help maintain the service.

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