|Dental hygienist Emma Lawson inside the family room at The Village at Cataumet.
Living in a homeless shelter can be overwhelming, often forcing one to overlook the minor and major aspects of life while concentrating on the necessity of finding permanent housing.
This is why dental hygienist Emma Lawson of Scituate, has made it a priority to bring her expertise to shelters like The Village at Cataumet so clients do not neglect something as important as the health of their teeth. “They have so much on their plate right now they are trying to deal with,” Lawson said in March, when she made her third trip to the shelter since last fall “They are looking for jobs and trying to make ends meet. By bringing this service to them, they won’t have to take time off of work to go to the dentist.”
Lawson, who has over 25 years of experience working in private practice, expanded her base of knowledge about a year and a half ago when she became a public health dental hygienist.
It was at that same time she started her own company, Visiting Dental Hygiene Associates, allowing her the freedom to ply her trade two days a week at off-site locations which range from senior centers to homeless shelters that include Carolina Hill in Marshfield, Pilgrims Hope in Kingston as well as HAC’s Carriage House in North Falmouth, and The Village at Cataumet.
Because it is a mobile operation, Lawson has to bring her own portable dental chair, compressor and the various tools of her craft – picks, mirrors and eye magnifiers – that allow her to provide shelter clients with a dental cleaning that includes fluoride treatment, an oral cancer exam and periodontal screening.
In March, she was scheduled to meet with seven HAC clients, starting with Ashley Lewis who admittedly, “has not had very good experience with dentists” in the past.
Still, she expressed gratitude that Lawson was there.“This is awesome of her to do this,” Lewis said.
Lawson views her role not only as a hygienist, but as an educator. For example, with patients who may be pregnant, she said, “they may be unaware of the relationship between having gum disease causing preterm labor.”
She works with parents, showing them how to brush and care for their children’s teeth, providing them helpful tips like this: “children up to the age of four should not be given regular toothpaste,” she said, explaining that it can lead to permanent discoloration on their adult teeth.
While Lawson receives payment through each client’s dental insurance, there have been times when some have not had any medical coverage. Lawson has treated them anyway, understanding that this type of service is vital to their health.
“It is a lot of work, but I find it very rewarding,” she said. “The patients I see are so appreciative of the service I have given them. I walk away feeling like I have made a difference. It is a rewarding feeling at the end of the day.”