Denver, CO

Homeless people can rescue their teeth, get new ones

David Heitz
Photo byBrian Tromp/Unsplash

One of the most visible things about homelessness is the toll it takes on a person’s teeth.

People experiencing homelessness frequently lose their belongings. It can be hard to hold onto a toothbrush and keep it clean

For those who do have a toothbrush, finding running water to brush your teeth with can be impossible sometimes. Public restrooms have become a thing of the past in Denver.

I remember dust devils kicking up while I was outside during homelessness and debris getting into my mouth. The gravelly material caused me to chip some teeth.

People experiencing homelessness face dental problems

“Persons who are homeless have more grossly decayed and missing teeth than the general population and even the impoverished population living in residences,” according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Human Services, or DHS. “Homeless persons are 12 times more likely than individuals with stable housing to have dental problems. Persons living in unstable housing, such as a hotel or the residence of a friend or relative, are six times more likely to have dental problems.”

There are places people experiencing homelessness can go to have their teeth worked on for free, including Colorado Coalition for the Homelessness’s Stout Street Clinic. Other resources can be found throughout the Front Range, according to the Colorado Mission of Mercy.

“Only 53 percent of toothless homeless individuals have complete sets of dentures, compared
with 91 percent of the general population,” according to the DHS. “In addition, 83 percent had not had a dental cleaning in the previous four years, a rate 4.6 times higher than in the general U.S. population.”

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless cranks out dentures
Photo byEnis Yayuz/Unsplash

Last year, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provided more than 300 sets of full and partial dentures to clients, according to dentist Carol Niforatos, director of the dental center at Stout Street Clinic. Many people experiencing homelessness try to ignore dental pain, and some even pull their own teeth. Niforatos said she most commonly sees emergency pain and swelling associated with infected teeth, gum disease and infections, broken teeth and cavities, missing teeth and lost dentures.

My building, a former hotel made into housing for the homeless, has many tenants who do not have any teeth. Many complain about an inability to enjoy food anymore since they can’t chew it.

One resident, Jim, a really good-natured guy, had been without teeth for at least two years. I remember the day he got his dentures. His smile could just about bring you to tears. He hoped it would hep him get more dates, he said. Another resident, Theresa, said she finally went to the dentist and was shocked to learn her teeth aren’t in worse shape. She had some infected teeth pulled but many still were healthy, she said.

Coalition distributes toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
Photo byDiana Polekhina/Unsplash

The Coalition distributes toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to anyone who needs them at their Stout Street Clinic, Niforatos said. “The concerns we see in people experiencing homelessness are largely due to neglect. It is very hard for them to get in and get the routine care they need. When an emergency arises, they then have to prioritize dental care, rather than getting the scheduled maintenance they need.”

Survey: 70 % lost teeth during homelessness

In the meantime, a British homeless advocacy group called Groundswell conducted its own research in London. They found that among 260 people experiencing homelessness:

· 90 % of participants had an issue with oral health since becoming homeless

· 30 % of homeless people were currently experiencing dental pain.

· 70 % reported lost teeth since becoming homeless.

· 15% of homeless people have pulled out their own teeth.

Pulling teeth is by far the most inexpensive form of dentistry and often the only option for people experiencing homelessness. But when teeth can’t be replaced, it leaves a hole much bigger than the one in a homeless person’s mouth. “In a national survey, 98 % of shelter staff said that dental services are important in returning homeless persons to mainstream American society,” according to DHS. “Missing teeth diminish self-esteem and impair an individual’s ability to eat, get a job, and, ultimately, return to mainstream society.”
Photo byDiana Polekhina/Unsplash

Services offered by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless

Services offered at the Stout Street Clinic include:

  • Dental care for adults and children
  • Examinations
  • X-rays
  • Fluoride treatments
  • Cleanings
  • Fillings
  • Stainless steel crowns
  • Deep Cleanings (scaling and root planting)
  • Periodontal maintenance visits
  • Urgent needs and extractions
  • Root canals
  • Full or partial dentures
  • Patient education on proper care for your teeth

“The Dental team provides compassionate and professional service in a state-of-the-art facility,” the Coalition boasts on its website. “The experienced and friendly staff will make sure you leave with a smile.”

And with more smiles on the streets, we’ll all be better off.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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