Dental Hygiene for Homeless Youth in Seattle

Publication Date

Spring 5-29-2024

Item Type


Executive Summary

Dental Hygiene for Homeless Youth in Seattle

This project addresses the issue of poor access to hygiene supplies among the homeless youth population in Seattle. We partnered with an organization that provides temporary housing and essential resources for homeless youth aged 18-25 in Seattle, with a mission to help them find permanent housing solutions. After collaborating with the site coordinator and assessing the community's needs, we decided to host a donation drive on the SPU campus to collect dental hygiene supplies, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and floss. The project comprises these collected supplies as well as educational pamphlets on hygiene recommendations for showering, brushing teeth, hand washing, and general hygiene tips. Our aim is to supply the youth at this agency with both hygiene resources and information to support them in their journey to finding housing and improving general hygiene with a focus on dental health.


Last year, Washington had an estimated 36 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 residents, according to the annual report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This rate is 27% higher than in 2019, when it was 28.3 per 10,000 residents. The state’s homeless crisis is particularly acute among the youth population as evidenced by 1,802 homeless unaccompanied youth in 2022, making up 6% of the entire homeless youth population in the United States. This figure is the third highest in the country, following California and New York (HUD, 2024). We chose to investigate the potential correlations between low income, homelessness, and oral health. Research showed that 23% of children aged 12 to 19 from low-income families have untreated cavities in their permanent teeth, which is twice the rate of children from higher-income households (CDC, 2021). Furthermore, Children aged 6 to 19 years from low-income households are about 15% less likely to get sealants (CDC, 2021). Poor dental health can also negatively impact mental health, as there is a significant correlation between poor dental health and the development of depression, independent of CRP (inflammatory response) and BMI (O’Neil et al., 2014).

Activities with Rationale

To address the hygiene needs of homeless youth at this agency, we implemented several activities with a clear rationale. We placed five donation boxes around campus: one in the Gwinn cafeteria, two in dormitory lobbies, one in the common study area known as the SUB, and one in the nursing building. Recognizing that homeless youth often lack hygiene necessities due to poverty and constant mobility, and knowing that dental hygiene is essential for overall health and well-being, we aimed to make these supplies accessible. Additionally, we hosted a donation drive in Martin Square on campus for three consecutive Wednesdays this quarter. Our team split into pairs, taking one-hour shifts to engage students and staff, offering information about our drive. We distributed pamphlets with details about the drive and included a Venmo QR code for those who preferred to donate money instead of supplies. This proactive approach aimed to increase donations and foster community engagement. Furthermore, we created educational pamphlets on teeth brushing, hand washing, and showering to post at the agency. These pamphlets are designed to be eye-catching and straightforward, intended for placement in shower and bathroom areas to provide essential hygiene information, which is particularly needed in this community to promote better health practices.


The goal of this project was to provide dental hygiene supplies to the residents at the agency and to increase their understanding of dental and body hygiene techniques. We achieved this by sending educational posters for the agency to display and donating the collected supplies at the end of week seven. Although we wanted to provide a dental clinic van, we were unable to do so due to a lack of funds and scheduling difficulties. Further follow-up with the agency manager will be necessary to determine the impact of our interventions- assessing whether there was a significant effect and if it would be worthwhile to continue or repeat the project.


Overall, this project supports the agency by supplying much-needed resources to homeless youth who might otherwise lack access to these supplies. However, the distribution of these resources may not be sustainable, as raising the supplies requires multiple weeks of effort and daily time dedicated to standing by the donation boxes and engaging with potential donors. The project is not intended as the sole method for providing all dental hygiene supplies for the agency, but rather to educate the clients on certain health topics and supplement their resources. On the other hand, the educational posters on dental and body hygiene provided by the SPU Nursing Students will allow the agency to continue educating their residents on important issues, such as regular showering and personal hygiene, which the agency has identified as areas of potential growth.


Disparities in Oral health | Division of Oral Health | CDC. (2021, February 5).

HUD releases 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. (2024, May 6). National Low Income Housing Coalition.

O’Neil, A., Berk, M., Venugopal, K., Kim, S., Williams, L. J., & Jacka, F. N. (2014b). The association between poor dental health and depression: findings from a large-scale, population-based study (the NHANES study). General Hospital Psychiatry, 36(3), 266–270.

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