24 Nov Airo AV Says: Union Gospel Mission expands dental clinics to New
It’s been three years since Dwight Harvey has had his teeth cleaned by a hygienist so he was happy to be among the first patients at the expansion of a pop-up dental office staffed by University of B.C. students.
Students from the dental faculty have been treating clients of the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Surrey for more than seven years on a weekly basis at temporary dental offices. The hygienists are now engaging in outreach to the Christian charity’s clients in New Westminster.
Harvey, during a cleaning at a UGM housing complex in Surrey, said he hasn’t been able to afford a proper cleaning of his five remaining natural teeth (he wears a full upper denture and a partial lower) because he’s on social assistance for health reasons and can’t afford the $110 fee.
He said the worst part of having unhealthy teeth is the shame of a toothy grin.
“It’s embarrassing and they’ll think I’m on drugs, which I’m not,” said Harvey, who works doing renovation jobs. “You work with clients and you have to have teeth.’
And equally as annoying is watching someone else bite into an apple — “Jeez, I remember those days. Steaks or carrots or apples, forgot about it.”
Harvey, who rents an apartment in New West, jumped at the chance when he heard about the weekly clinic while getting a meal at the UGM.
Providing free cleanings to the homeless, or those on low incomes, is important not only for the dental hygiene, but also to prevent pain, tooth loss or even bone erosion from untreated dental problems, said UGM spokeswoman Rachael Allen.
She said poor mouth hygiene and missing teeth can also make it difficult to feel confident when looking for a job or a place to live. And the regular contact with the hygienists also can provide important contact with health professionals, so “they’re seen and they have dignity.”
The joint UGM-UBC mobile clinic sees about 100 patients a year and offers about $14,000 in dental services, said UBC’s Dr. Leeann Donnelly. The hygienists are fourth-year students who rotate into the course requirement for three months, and will see the patients more than once.
“It’s not just a pop-in, pop-out visit,” she said. “They can establish a rapport with their patients.”
And she said the students also benefit by the social engagement.
“It’s fulfilling,” said student Cassandra Ugalde. “You get to work with a population you don’t normally see at UBC.”
The students also assess the patients for diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, that can manifest themselves in poor oral health, she said.
And the clinic is a chance to advise patients on what dental services may be available to them as low-income earners, and instruct them on how to fill out the forms to access those services.