The University of Plymouth’s work to combine first-rate dental training with outstanding community care has been rewarded at the Times Higher Education Awards 2023.

The pioneering work of the Peninsula Dental School and the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise won the Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community category at the awards.

It is recognition of the efforts of more than 100 staff and 400 students working and studying with the university, and in communities across Devon and Cornwall.

Ewen McColl, a professor and head of the Peninsula Dental School, said, “This award is a fantastic achievement for everyone connected with the University of Plymouth, Peninsula Dental School and Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise. To have our work recognised at a national level is further evidence that our approach is delivering positive change across our community. It is the result of an amazing team effort that continues to benefit our students and staff and the people of Devon and Cornwall."

The award was presented during a ceremony held in Liverpool on December 7, 2023, hosted by broadcaster and author Sandi Toksvig.

In presenting the award, the judges also said, “By addressing the serious gap in NHS dental provision through their exemplary social enterprise and its practical support for disadvantaged groups, including promoting oral hygiene among children, Plymouth’s top-rated dental school has provided an excellent example of a university really making a difference in its community."

The Peninsula Dental School was originally established to tackle oral health inequalities in the South West, whilst training future dentists and dental therapists.

In 2013, it also established the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) to treat patients who may not otherwise have access to care.

In 2021/22, the period covered by the awards, students registered with the Peninsula Dental School – and working at clinics run by PDSE – saw almost 5,600 patients across Devon and Cornwall.

Over the course of 28,000 appointments, 418 dental and dental therapy students were able to deliver crucial primary care to many of the more vulnerable members of society, including those experiencing homelessness and other forms of social exclusion.

This activity marked a significant rise both in the number of patients seen and appointments delivered, at the University’s Dental Education Facilities in Plymouth, Exeter and Truro.

Of the 1,748 patients who left feedback during 2021/22, 97 per cent said they would recommend the services to their own friends and family.

In addition to this primary care offer, during 2021/22 the university expanded its range of programmes designed to improve levels of oral health within the community.

Through an Inter-Professional Engagement Module, dental and dental therapy students had the opportunity to work directly with one of 14 host organisations caring for children, people with learning difficulties, older people at risk of isolation, young carers, those experiencing homelessness, and those living in social housing.

A Supervised Tooth Brushing Programme, led by academics and students, worked with pupils at 146 primary schools to provide advice and guidance on the benefits, and most effective methods of brushing their teeth.

More than 3,000 children aged 16 and under who are unable to register with a dentist were seen at a paediatric oral health clinic.