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Smiling through lockdown

The KCL Smile Society reflects on the last year of outreach during the pandemic.

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The Smile Society is an oral health outreach-focused society run by dental students at the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences at King’s College London. They support the local and wider community through various volunteering events and oral health awareness initiatives throughout the year.

The past year has been a challenging time for all of the society, and throughout the lockdown they have had to be resilient and adapt their projects to the restrictions. Many vulnerable communities needed support during this time more than ever, and they endeavored to help spread a smile on people’s faces as best as they could.

Typically, their main events include educational visits to primary schools, to teach children in Years 3-6 about good oral hygiene (including fluoride toothpaste), diet and visiting the dentist. However, with in-person visits no longer allowed, the team shifted to Zoom and creatively adapted their workshop presentations to work online.

 

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The society also carried out 2 incredibly rewarding online workshops with Downright Excellence (DEx), a charity supporting children with Down’s syndrome.

Their volunteers and committee members successfully helped them run these virtual visits, and ensured they were as engaging, fun and interactive as always. They even managed to remotely deliver some goody bags of oral health supplies on a couple of occasions.

One of the Smile Society’s major projects this year has been a children’s book. They had more scope working remotely and their team of writers, illustrators and editors have been hard at work over the past few months. Their book features a fun rhyming story about hero Riley who befriends a monster with toothache and teaches him about toothbrushing and oral hygiene.

Usually, the team run annual campaigns and school assemblies to promote Fizz Free February, encouraging children and university students to swap out fizzy drinks during this month. However, this year, with their society members filming from remote locations, they compiled a fun educational video instead - which you can watch through this link: Fizz Free February by KCL Smile Society - YouTube

They were still keen to carry out some in-person volunteering events, in line with government guidance at the time of the 2nd and 3rd lockdowns. Their sponsors, Colgate and GSK, kindly delivered hundreds of boxes of toothbrushes and toothpastes, which members distributed to different food banks across Southwark, Lambeth and Westminster. They also created some tailor-made oral health leaflets and added these to the donations.

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Additionally, they partnered up with  Food2You Southwark, a grocery delivery service for vulnerable older adults run by AgeUK. With the pressures of the lockdown on top of several other difficulties, they noticed how oral healthcare can become less of a priority for these groups. So alongside helping them with their food shopping, the society wanted to encourage them to look after their teeth as best as they could. Their members who carried out the shopping for the clients added in our oral health leaflets or toothpastes, and those who took the grocery orders discussed oral health behaviours and encouraged the clients to add in supplies to their shop if needed.

Another cause to raise awareness of was mouth cancer - around 8000 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer every year, and it is often detected late so has a high mortality rate (Cancer Research UK, 2021). They teamed up with the Mouth Cancer Foundation (MCF) charity, and in October 2020, their committee carried out a sponsored 10km walk - using their society and personal social media platforms, they successfully raised awareness and over £1300 for MCF.

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They introduced a new role on their committee this year, to further strengthen their work with external dental charities. Zahraa Maiter, the External Charities Officer, organised a webinar with speakers from different charities such as DentAid and Refugee Crisis Foundation.

Said Shereen Hussain and Kate Wyncoll: “As Co-Presidents of Smile Society during this extraordinary year, working with our members different charities and groups in the community has been a privilege. Our different projects and events have been some of our personal highlights throughout the year and added small touches of positivity and hope throughout the winter lockdown.”

As a committee in the future, they are incredibly excited to return to their usual in-person school visits, homeless outreach, conferences and to be able to host more social events for their members to further community spirit.

They are also looking forward to continuing some of the new projects they started this year - keep an eye out for their children’s book, which will be published very soon!