At-Risk Youth Project

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Dental Volunteers for Israel seeks new partners to provide oral health education and dental treatment to Jerusalem’s at-risk and homeless youth at DVI’s Trudi Birger Clinic. DVI is already treating hundreds of at-risk youth (up to age 26), and the impact on their lives is astounding. One young man – aged 20 – who is living on the streets and missing a front tooth which is about to be replaced – has the potential for entering the workforce and changing his entire life around. For at-risk youth, access to dental care is not only life changing, but it affects their direct ability to escape the cycle of poverty.

Why is Oral Health Education SO Critical to At-Risk Youth?

Youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are particularly prone to dental disease. In fact, 80 percent of all caries occur in just 25 percent of kids. We know this to be true from the kids who come to DVI for help, as their level of dental decay and caries is truly shocking to our volunteer dentists. Lack of access to dental care directly affects the matriculation and academic success of low-income teenagers, and is directly tied to the cycle of poverty. Out of a total population of less than 830,000 people, Jerusalem has some 200,000 kids living in poverty today – these are DVI’s patients. With the gift of a toothbrush, toothpaste, some solid education (the progressive curriculum continues once every 6 months for as long as he/she remains a patient) and quality, caring dental treatment, the oral health of these kids is being improved for life, and they remain in school, where they belong – an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty. Among new immigrants and at-risk youth, oral health education is desperately needed – the toothbrush they receive at DVI is often the first. Many are smoking cigarettes or have mouth piercings with no awareness of the impact this will have on their oral health – these youth gain a high level of understanding of exactly how this impacts oral health – as well as a proper cleaning by the hygienist! Youth who have already dropped out of high school and live in shelters or on the street are less able to get jobs or advance in any way, frequently due to visibly poor oral health. On top of everything else they have to deal with, this is further demoralizing and makes it extremely difficult for them to assimilate in school or get ahead in life. Many of the young adults in their early 20s living on the streets are missing front teeth – the treatment they receive directly affects their ability and confidence to seek employment.

The only payment which DVI requires from our patients is to “buy in” to the concept of good oral health care, to maintain their oral hygiene, and adopt healthy dietary and smoking habits. Most are seeing a dentist for the first time in their lives, and for many it is the first they have heard about oral hygiene.

Who are DVI Patients? Youth are treated at the clinic until age 26 and come from all the diverse backgrounds represented in Jerusalem. In practice this means that DVI treats significant numbers of Ethiopian, Palestinian, Ultra-Orthodox and Secular Jewish Israeli youth. One non-profit we work with, Atnachta, is a homeless shelter which accepts homeless kids from ages 13-19; a few years back, their social worker pleaded with DVI to expand the patient age range from 18 to up to 20, to be able to accept all of their clients, who desperately needed dental care and had nowhere else to turn. DVI accepts referrals from the Jerusalem Municipality’s (kidum l’noar) at-risk youth program; indeed it was their social workers who entreated DVI to expand the age range from 20 to 26. DVI has long worked with Elem and other non-profits that assist at-risk youth.

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