Clinic would aid those ‘who can’t af­ford den­tistry’

The London Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN

Thou­sands of Lon­don­ers who can’t af­ford to get their teeth fixed might get re­lief from a quiet push to set up the first den­tal clinic in the city for the im­pov­er­ished.

In a city where more than 70,000 peo­ple live be­low the poverty line, ob­servers say the need is dire. Many peo­ple wind up in hos­pi­tal emer­gency rooms or at the pub­lic health of­fice seek­ing ba­sic care that other Lon­don­ers have cov­ered un­der work­place in­sur­ance plans.

No more, vow or­ga­niz­ers of a new non-profit den­tal clinic that would treat as many as 3,500 pa­tients and pro­vide more than $440,000 in ser­vices each year.

The only catch? An­other $150,000 of a $500,000 fundrais­ing goal is needed to open the clinic that, in a city with med­i­cal re­sources many com­mu­ni­ties can only dream of, still lacks a ded­i­cated ser­vice to en­sure the most vul­ner­a­ble get ba­sic den­tal care.

“In a way, it’s part of the plan to fight poverty in Lon­don,” said den­tist Ken­neth Wright, ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Western Uni­ver­sity’s Schulich School of Medicine and Den­tistry and project or­ga­nizer. “We want to help peo­ple who can’t af­ford den­tistry.”

Wright chairs the Lon­don Com­mu­nity Den­tal Al­liance, a net­work that in­cludes Western’s den­tal school, Fan­shawe Col­lege’s den­tal hy­giene and med­i­cal of­fice ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­grams, the Sal­va­tion Army, the Lon­don In­terCom­mu­nity Health Cen­tre and the Lon­don and Dis­trict Den­tal So­ci­ety.

The al­liance has achieved non­profit sta­tus and is now work­ing to se­cure startup and cap­i­tal fund­ing for its clinic, with the goal to open in Septem­ber. It has raised about $350,000 for the project so far, in­clud­ing a $230,000 grant from the Lon­don Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion.

The den­tal prac­tice would have three full-time em­ploy­ees and in-kind con­tri­bu­tions by fac­ulty and stu­dents at Western and Fan­shawe. Be­sides ser­vices it will bill to On­tario’s so­cial as­sis­tance and dis­abil­ity pro­grams, the al­liance es­ti­mates it will need to raise $50,000 to $60,000 a year to sup­port the project.

The group can lo­cate on the sec­ond floor of the Glen Cairn Com­mu­nity Re­source Cen­tre. The of­fice will have four den­tist chairs, an X-ray room, pri­vate of­fice space and san­i­ta­tion sta­tion for den­tal in­stru­ments.

Den­tal care isn’t cov­ered by On­tario’s pub­lic health in­sur­ance plan. Den­tal prob­lems can keep low-in­come peo­ple from work, and pain and shame can iso­late them.

When pre­ven­tive and emer­gency den­tal care is fi­nan­cially out of reach, Lon­don hos­pi­tals feel the fall­out. Ev­ery month, the city’s emer­gency rooms see an av­er­age of 100 cases of toothaches, ab­scesses and other oral health is­sues.

The Mid­dle­sex-Lon­don Health Unit gets about 20 calls a month about sim­i­lar den­tal prob­lems.

Rates paid by On­tario’s so­cial as­sis­tance and dis­abil­ity pro­grams for den­tal care are far be­low the cost of do­ing busi­ness in a stan­dard den­tistry prac­tice, Wright said, mak­ing it a chal­lenge for den­tists to take on cases they come across.

The non-profit clinic will be po­si­tioned to take on these pa­tients and will work with com­mu­nity agen­cies and so­cial as­sis­tance case work­ers to iden­tify and re­fer peo­ple in need, Wright said.

The clinic will mainly han­dle pa­tients over 17. In On­tario, chil­dren and teens from low-in­come house­holds may be el­i­gi­ble for den­tal care un­der the prov­ince’s Healthy Smiles pro­gram.

Den­tistry op­tions for low-in­come Lon­don­ers ex­ist in the city, Wright said, but they’re lim­ited.

Western’s Den­tal Out­reach Com­mu­nity Ser­vice pro­gram — a mo­bile ini­tia­tive Wright started a decade ago — of­fers free den­tistry to vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions com­pleted by vol­un­teer den­tal stu­dents, fac­ulty and hy­gien­ists. The pro­gram sees about 250 pa­tients a year.

“What we found in that op­er­a­tion, which works well, is we’re just scratch­ing the sur­face of the prob­lem of meet­ing the needs of peo­ple who just couldn’t af­ford den­tistry,” Wright said.

Glen Cairn Com­mu­nity Re­source Cen­tre as­so­ciate di­rec­tor Sean Hunter said the Ade­laide Street hub en­coun­ters plenty of poor peo­ple need­ing den­tal care. He said con­vert­ing the up­stairs of­fice spa­ces into a full den­tal clinic is a no-brainer.

“It aligns well with our mis­sion and why we were es­tab­lished,” he said. “I think this is go­ing to open up a lot of doors for folks to get the den­tal care they need.”

DEREK RUTTAN/THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

Den­tist Ken Wright is chair of the Lon­don Com­mu­nity Den­tal Al­liance which hopes to open a den­tal clinic for low in­come pa­tients at the Glen Cairn Com­mu­nity Re­source Cen­tre in Lon­don.

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