Oral health issues are common among unhoused people and can lead to serious health consequences, such as exacerbating diabetes symptoms or negatively affecting heart health. Unfortunately, with its high cost and frequent need for multiple treatments, accessing dentistry is a struggle for many experiencing homelessness.
To help address these concerns, The Night Ministry's CTA Outreach Program, which provides free health care, food, and more to community members who ride public transit for shelter, has been working with dental residents who are receiving their postgraduate training through Loyola University Medical Center.
Since the spring of 2021, residents have joined the agency at the Forest Park Blue Line 'L' station once a month, offering dental evaluations to unhoused individuals, performed under the guidance of professors.
"They do an inspection, document it in our electronic medical record, and then do a referral for further care," said Stephan Koruba, Lead Nurse Practitioner at The Night Ministry.
"We try to get those who need treatment into the hands of someone who can take care of them long term, whether that's with us at the Loyola Oral Health Center or with other clinics in the community," said Dr. Martin Hogan, Assistant Professor of Dental Medicine at the Loyola Oral Health Center, who oversees residents' work.
Because they normally work in more controlled clinical settings, conducting exams at the CTA offers the dental residents a unique opportunity to learn best practices for serving patients who are unhoused.
"It's not a common thing for dentists to be out on the street doing outreach. They're excited to be learning how to work with patients who have different challenges in a nontraditional environment," said Koruba.
"Almost every resident has told me that their conversations with patients at the CTA have impacted their lives. They feel like they're making a difference or like they want to help even more," said Hogan.
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