Project Description

No one likes going to the dentist. Well, almost no one.

Rae, a patient at Fourth Street Clinic, can’t wait to sit in the dental chair. But it wasn’t easy to get her there.

“You know, most of my life I’ve been using drugs off and on, but when I was 28 I started using heroin—and that’s when things got really bad,” Rae said, matter-of-factly. Years of drug abuse began to deteriorate her oral health, and by the time she was nearly 30, almost all her teeth were gone.

Homelessness and oral health

A Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) survey reported that more than 90% of individuals experiencing homelessness complained of serious dental problems within a six-month period. Oral health behaviors of this population are generally poorer than their housed counterparts. Many barriers cause this, including having no place to brush and floss, limited access to basic oral hygiene resources, and an inability to pay out of pocket. When living on the street, food choices are also limited. Foods high in sugar and starch are more available to individuals experiencing homelessness than healthier food, making it harder to maintain a healthy smile.

In addition to these barriers, poor oral health is common among men and women struggling with substance abuse. Chronic usage of substances such as alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin and tobacco can increase tooth decay, cracked teeth, gingivitis and periodontitis.

Rae struggled with substance abuse when she began losing her teeth.

“The embarrassment, the shame. It’s been worse dealing with it every day. I wouldn’t go to work, I wouldn’t go anywhere with my friends or go out to eat. It caused me so much depression and anxiety, that I realized I gotta do this.” After a basic primary care visit, her doctor connected her to Dr. Ron Kehl, the dental director at Fourth Street Clinic, and now she’s getting fitted for partials to give her a new smile.

oral health homelessness utah fourth street clinic

A safe place for a new start

“The staff at Fourth Street Clinic made me feel like I wanted to do this. It helped so much to feel like they weren’t looking at me weird or treating me differently—even with my honesty about my drug use. It is different here. They have no idea how big of a change this is going to be for me. Now I’ve been clean for two and a half years. I’m ready for a brand new start. I know it’s gonna be a process, and that’s hard, but I know it will be worth it.”

A donation to Fourth Street Clinic means individuals can access dental care they wouldn’t get anywhere else.

You can give someone like Rae a chance to start a new life with dignity.