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