Smiling is something many of us take for granted, but some homeless people stop themselves from doing it because they are ashamed of their teeth – or lack of them.
Cheryl Ferguson, 35, of Mary Slessor Square, was addicted to heroin for eight years and a chaotic lifestyle took its toll on her mouth.
She said: “My teeth were a mess, they were stumps, totally worn away through drugs and not brushing them. They were at the bottom of my priority list.
“If I was full of drugs I didn’t care but as soon as reality sunk in I would cover my mouth with my hand, and I didn’t smile.
“It affected my mental health. I was miserable all the time and I was too self-conscious to speak to people.”
Cheryl said she felt stigmatised as “a junkie” because of her teeth and got used to people treating her like one.
But that was until three years ago when she decided to kick the habit – inspired by another ex-addict who went clean in prison – and moved to Glasgow for rehab.
Cheryl returned to Dundee a year later, began volunteering at an art group called Just Bee Productions, and had a full set of dentures put in at NHS Tayside’s mobile drop-in dental van for homeless people and people with chaotic lives.
She said having her new teeth installed was a turning point in her life and has opened up many doors.
She secured a permanent job shortly after, making scrapbooks for families who have lost loved ones due to drugs, and has full custody of her daughter.
She said: “I feel more confident now and I feel like I can be a proper mum.
“I can laugh, smile and joke with my daughter.
“It’s given me my happiness back being able to smile and people treat me differently now.
“You wouldn’t know I’d taken drugs now, but before people thought I was still on them, even though I was clean.
“I am proud of how far I’ve come.
“I’m doing things now that I never would have thought would be possible.
“I was stuck in drugs for so long that I was going to die if I didn’t stop but now I feel like I have a purpose in life.”
Thomas Malone, 39, of Baldovie Road, was on methadone for 20 years and was addicted to hydrocodone prior to that since the age of 16.
He said: “My lifestyle was really bad – I was nine stone and I’m 5’8” tall.
“I was living for pay day, going out and spending all my money on drugs then starving for 30 days.
“I lived in different places with an ex-partner and we became co-dependant on each other, I had to get out.
“I said I’ve had enough of this and walked out.”
Thomas moved in with his mum in April and began to piece his life back together, starting with reducing his methadone prescription.
In July he had his last dose of methadone, which was just 5ml, and then turned his attention to his teeth, which he got treated at the city’s mobile NHS van.
He said: “I had missing teeth, my head was down all the time, it affected my confidence.
“Now I’ve got them fixed I’ve learned to smile again, I wasn’t doing that before. I’m also going on holiday soon to Benidorm with my brother and family.
“It’s my first time abroad and it’s something I wouldn’t have done without getting my teeth sorted.
“And I’m going to the gym. It’s like I’m living my life backwards, doing all these things I should have done years ago.
“I’m looking for a job now too. That’s going to be the next chapter.”