As an undergraduate studying in the Dental School, Claudia Wasige won a Herald Higher Education Award for her involvement in setting up a student-led movement to improve oral health among some of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens, from refugees to the homeless.
Her oral health campaign involved the efforts of more than 120 student volunteers, working with a University society that Claudia helped to found – the Glasgow Oral Health Improvement Student Society (GOHISS). Under Claudia’s leadership, GOHISS established five clinics in food banks throughout Glasgow and its volunteers spoke to around 200 people a month.
The Herald Award also recognised Claudia's work with the University's Reach Programme, which supports school pupils with an interest in and ability to study a professional degree in dentistry, law, medicine or veterinary medicine. She was founding President of the reach Dental Society, which created course materials and clinical demonstrations to help the University engage with S4-S5 pupils across the West of Scotland.
“It came out of a conversation in a food bank, where I work as a befriender. I was chatting to this dude, and he didn't have any teeth. I asked if he thought it would be a good idea to have a dental service he could access and he said yes.
The food bank management committee was happy for me to try it and so I contacted Professor David Conway - he is professor of Public Health at Glasgow – and he connected me with a small informal group at the University that had similar aspirations. We formalised it by becoming an official society called GOHISS.
We generally go in and set up a stall, and as part of the package of service that people get from the food bank, they will also get dental advice and freebies. If they have any questions, they can ask the students. If they aren't registered, we have a form that helps us to identify where their nearest dental practice is and can give them advice on how to get registered.
And a lot of it is about changing attitudes towards dentistry. I think that a lot of people who don't go, they have this idea of a big old man with a moustache who will have his knee on their chest while he pulls out a tooth. So it's trying to change that perception.
When I finished working as President of GOHISS, there were 122 volunteers - all third to fifth year dental students. In the Dental school, the class sizes are small, so to have 122 volunteers is a huge chunk of the total student body.
I'm really grateful to the University for being so supportive. Because it started out as just an idea, but then I got so much support and so much help from the staff at the dental hospital. And now, when I go into the food bank during the summer break, the regular users will ask me, where is the dental table? I get so proud because they notice that it's not there and they really appreciate it.”