Smilesatsea – Seafarers Hospital Society offer free dental checks for fishermen at the quayside

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Fishermen's Mission logoThe fishing community in Cornwall, Brixham and Poole were left smiling thanks to an exciting new initiative from the Seafarers Hospital Society and the Fishermen’s Mission. These two long-established maritime charities are working together with community dental providers, Smile Together and Dentaid, to deliver free dental health checks and follow-up treatment to local fishermen and their families. Here Lysanne Wilson, Health Development Manager at the Society, tells the story.  The Seafarers Hospital Society has been looking after the health and welfare of seafarers for nearly 200 years, so we know how difficult it can be to stay healthy when you work at sea. We have some initiatives targeting seafarer health and wellbeing, from free physiotherapy to mental health support through Big White Wall. Our latest target is dental health in the fishing community.

Dental health is just as important as physical and mental health, but when you’re out at sea it’s really hard to fit it in and, if money is tight, it’s not a priority. We’re making it easy for fishermen to look after their teeth by bringing free dental treatment to the quayside, so it fits around the fishermen and their busy working lives. Working in partnership with the Fishermen’s Mission who support fishermen and their families, and community dental providers Smile Together and Dentaid, we believe we can make a real and lasting difference to the fishing community.


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SmilesAtSea in Padstow

Cornwall and Devon

The first of what we hope will be a nationwide programme of dental checks took place over 10 days at the end of June in six harbourside locations across Cornwall and in Brixham in Devon. Funded by the Society and the Fishermen’s Mission, the SmilesAtSea initiative took volunteers from Smile Together on a two-week tour in a fully-equipped mobile dental unit. The tour covered Newlyn, Hayle, Newquay, Padstow, Mevagissey and Looe before finishing in Brixham.

In total 115 patients were seen by the team, including 11 wives and partners. They were all screened for oral cancer, given oral health packs and offered toothbrushing and dietary advice. Just under half received immediate dental treatment including scale and polish, x-rays, extractions and fillings. 40 patients were referred on for further treatment, provided locally at a subsidised rate.

The feedback from patients was overwhelmingly positive, not only about the treatment but also about the service. One grateful patient summed it up: “Excellent service, very friendly, informative and FREE!” Another confessed to feeling nervous:I was very nervous about coming as I’m always worried about the dentist. The ladies were all really friendly and made me feel at ease.

The Seafarers Hospital Society and the Fishermen’s Mission funded all aspects of the service at the harbourside, which means that it was absolutely free. All follow-up treatment was also covered, with patients just paying the standard NHS contribution.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to capture fishermen on their home turf, free NHS Health Checks from Healthy Cornwall were also available in many of the locations. Covering height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, these checks are used to calculate the risk of developing major conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and dementia. The fishermen received individual help and support and were signposted to local services where needed.

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Dentaid at Poole


Hot on the heels of SmilesAtSea, at the beginning of July we went to Poole Harbour. This time the service was provided by Dentaid, an international dental charity working with us for the first time.

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Pete smiling after treatment

Feedback from fishermen was incredibly positive: I haven’t seen a dentist since I was 12 and I’ve become so self-conscious about the state of my teeth that I cover my mouth with my hand when I talk to people,” said the first patient, Pete Williams, who had a scale and polish and filling on the mobile unit.I would have liked to go to a dentist but if my appointment was on a good day for fishing I would have to go out to sea otherwise we’d have no money. I often work 18-hour days and fishermen don’t get paid time off for dental appointments. As my teeth got worse I worried I’d need lots of visits to the dentist, so I just put up with it. The mobile unit coming here has been brilliant because I can get everything done in one go.”

Some of the fishermen who visited the mobile clinic said the cost of dental care was a barrier to them accessing treatment. “I was registered but I couldn’t afford to keep going,” said fisherman Dave Green. His nephew Dan Green who had two painful teeth extracted added: “I’ve had toothache for so long, but I can’t get to a dentist. As a fisherman I find it very hard to find time and money to look after myself. There are lots of issues affecting us like homelessness and poverty so getting to a dentist isn’t ever at the top of the list.”


 The bigger picture

These two initiatives are part of a larger dental health care project that we’re piloting with the Fishermen’s Mission. We have a programme of free dental checks and treatment that we’re currently rolling out across the South West and elsewhere, using Smile Together and Dentaid to deliver the service. The response so far has been excellent and we’re very excited about the prospect of doing more.

To find out more about the dental health initiative and where it will be going next, visit or contact Lysanne Wilson by email or phone 020 8858 3696.


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