Filling the Gaps: Dental Care for the Houseless

A job loss. A broken relationship. An unexpected tragedy. People end up living on the streets for many reasons.

Life on the streets is not easy. It pushes people into the margins of society, misunderstood and overlooked because they lack a formal address. Many houseless people can’t access basic but critical health care like dental cleanings and fillings. When dental problems become severe, eating and drinking can cause unbearable pain. Life can begin to feel hopeless.

This is where Medical Teams International helps fill the gaps. For decades, we’ve been providing emergency dental care to people experiencing houselessness, partnering with organizations like Because People Matter in Portland, Oregon and Mary’s Place in Seattle, Washington. We restore health as a first step to restoring hope, because every person – no matter where they are or how desperate their situation – matters.

In honor of the upcoming National Health Care for the Homeless Week August 9-15, we want to share about the care Medical Teams provided for people experiencing houselessness this year.

Donna, a new Portland resident, received free emergency dental care at a Medical Teams Mobile Dental Clinic.

“I didn’t know we’d end up homeless.”

Twenty-two-year-old Donna recently drove to Portland from North Carolina, in hopes of finding a new city to live in. “I didn’t know when we left that we’d end up homeless. We were looking for housing but couldn’t find anything. That’s how we ended up here,” said Donna.

Donna found refuge in a transitional housing camp in Portland, where she has access to food and shelter. Soon after arriving, Donna was battling with intense tooth pain. Her wisdom tooth was impacted and inflamed.

“I’ve been in pain for three months. It’s sad because some of the foods here I can’t eat. I have to eat only soft foods. It hurts to even open my mouth,” Donna said.

Thankfully, help came right to her. A Medical Teams Mobile Dental clinic visited her transitional housing camp. Within the bounds of her transitional site, Donna was able to find the care she needed. She shared, “I’m really glad this team is here. To be honest, if they weren’t here, I would get pliers and just jerk it out. I can’t keep going through this pain much longer.”

Volunteer dentist Dr. Jacqueline Angell (L) and assistant Liz Vitagliano (R) inside a Medical Teams Mobile Dental van providing emergency care at Rolling Hills Community Church during the COVID-19 crisis

Dr. Angell, The Volunteer Dentist

Dr. Jacqueline Angell has been volunteering with Medical Teams since 2007, treating patients under the Burnside Bridge at Night Strike alongside Because People Matter. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many dentist offices turned away patients, leaving them with no other option than to visit hospital emergency rooms. This issue permeated the houseless population, too, limiting their access to services.

That’s when Medical Teams volunteers like Dr. Angell stepped in, willing to still host Mobile Dental Clinics in order to serve those in desperate need of care. She explained, “People, especially our houseless population—they’re not just going to go away. They are going to show up when they have pain and suffering.” Tooth and mouth pain can cause severe issues, affecting your ability to open your mouth to eat or talk. This debilitation adds to the challenges of a life lived on the streets.

Dr. Angell feels called to help people living with pain, and appreciates how in the process, she’s helping our overwhelmed health systems. “I feel like this is a much better venue to take care of these problems to help relieve that pressure on the emergency rooms,” she shared about the importance of mobile clinics.

Deanna, aka “Mama Dee”, is all smiles after receiving free dental care at a Medical Teams Mobile Dental Clinic.

Finding Access To The Care She Needs

Deanna has been experiencing houselessness for longer than she can remember. She left Colorado years ago to come to Portland and help her sister. Before finding a new home in a transitional housing camp, Deanna was living on the pavement in a park in NW Portland. Lovingly referred to as “Mama Dee” by her new community, Deanna’s positivity touches everyone she meets.

Having spent the last of several years on the streets, getting access to dental care was a challenge. When Medical Teams’ Mobile Dental Clinic visited the encampment, Deanna was excited to receive a check-up and relief from nagging tooth pain. “It’s so important because you need to be able to eat,” Deanna said about having access to care.

After checking her teeth, a Medical Teams volunteer dentist told Deanna that she had a tooth that was broken. The dentist was concerned it could cause an abscess with time.

It took about five minutes or less for the dentist to take care of her, and to her surprise, Deanna was already on her way. “I love it,” she said, grateful for the care she received.

Our Mobile Dental Clinics make a huge difference in people’s lives, giving access to the care they need. See our list of current clinics here.


You can provide health and healing to people like Donna and Deanna by partnering with us today.

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