Fishermen in Cornwall, Brixham and Poole are smiling, thanks to an exciting new joint initiative with the Seafarers Hospital Society.

The two charities are working together with community providers Smile together and Dentalaid, to deliver free dental health checks and follow-up treatment to local fishermen and their families. The scheme was put in place when the charities recognised the difficulties fishermen face in trying to get a dental treatment as a result of working irregular hours. Dental health is often neglected, so making it easily accessible and affordable is a top priority.

Lysanne Wilson, health development manager at the Seafarers’ Hospital Society explained:

“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. We’re making treatment to the harbourside, so it fits around fishermens and their busy working lives. By working in partnership with Fishermen’s Mission, which closely supports fishemren and their families, and community dental providers Smile Together and Dentaid, we can make a real and lasting difference to the fishing community.”

Cornwall and Devon


Cornwall and Devon The first of what they hope will be an extensive 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 Seafarers’ Hospital Society, the SmilesAtSea initiative took volunteers from Smile Together on a two-week tour in a fullyequipped mobile dental unit. The tour covered Newlyn, Hayle, Newquay, Padstow, Mevagissey and Looe, before finishing in Brixham.

Keith Dickson, senior superintendent for the Fishermen’s Mission, South West, said: “Fishermen have traditionally experienced problems accessing health services due to the nature of their job, and the irregular hours they work. This harbourside dental service enables the crews and their families to drop in and have a check-up, something they probably haven’t done in years.”

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. Forty 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 anxious. “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 funded all aspects of the service on the quayside, which means that it was absolutely free. Any follow-up treatment was also covered by the charity, with patients just paying a standard NHS contribution. Nicola Barr, clinical director for West Country Dental Care, the community dentistry arm of Smile Together, says:

“Access to dental care is one of the biggest health challenges in our region, so we are really pleased to receive funding from the Seafarers’ Hospital Society to enable us to mobilise and tackle the issue, to go further into our communities to help those who need us most.”

Taking advantage of the opportunity to capture fishermen on their home turf, free NHS health checks from Healthy Cornwall were also available in some locations. Covering height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol, these checks are used to calculate the risk of developing major diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and dementia. Dr Caroline Court, interim director of wellbeing and public health at Cornwall council, who commissioned Healthy Cornwall, added:

“We are delighted to be working with the Seafarers’ Hospital Society, Smile Together and the Fishermen’s Mission ‡ Emsworth skipper Pete Williams after receiving treatment at Poole earlier this month. to reach people who might otherwise not see a dentist or doctor. Helping individuals to make good choices about their lives and health is an important part of our work.”


Hot on the heels of SmilesAtSea, a similar initiative took place in Poole harbour at the beginning of this month. This time, the service was provided by Dentaid, an international dental charity working with the Seafarers’ Hospital Society and the Fishermen’s Mission for the first time.

Nick O’Neill, superintendent for the Fishermen’s Mission, South Coast, said: “Dentaid treated seven very grateful fishermen in Poole, saving them time and money, and also preventing needless pain. That has to be good for the fishermen, and good for business too.”

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,” he said. 

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 top of the list.” 

“We were very pleased to provide fishermen in Poole with dental care on our mobile unit, and understand some of the difficulties they face in accessing treatment,” said Dentaid CEO Andy Evans.

“The mobile unit takes dental care right to the communities who need our help, and we hope we can now visit other fishing communities around the country.”