Free dental clinics bring smiles all around

Dental clinic

There are few things worse than a toothache. If you have a dental plan, you simply make an appointment, take the wonders of modern dentistry for granted, and leave the chair with a frozen smile on your face. Without coverage, though, modern procedures suddenly seem less incredible than their costs.

About 30% of Quebecers either have no dental coverage or don't use the government services available to them. Beyond cost, explains Dr. Paul Allison, PhD’98, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, “There are many well-recognized barriers to accessing dental care – geographic, physical and cultural.”

This pressing need led to the creation of Jim Lund Dental Clinic at the Welcome Hall Mission (WHM) in Montreal’s St. Henri district. Opened in 2011, the clinic provides free, basic dental care to the homeless, low-income families, the elderly, the disabled and recent immigrants and refugees.

“Through the Dentistry Outreach Program, I see a lot of people who need dental work but can’t afford it,” says dentistry student Quyen Su. “That has changed my view of dentistry as a profession. I’ve learned that the inability to pay for necessary treatments affects a person’s life, down to even being able to speak to other people.”

One such patient, Daniel Olivier, required gum surgery after a bad cavity. “Thanks to you, I saved a lot of money,” he wrote in a thank-you letter. “You were a precious help to me, so understanding and incredibly kind.”

The greater Montreal community has embraced the efforts of the clinic, which is named in memory of the late Dr. Jim Lund, McGill’s longtime Dean of Dentistry and a passionate advocate of quality dental care for all members of society. Several McGill benefactors – including the R. Howard Webster Foundation, the George Hogg Family Foundation and A-dec, Inc. – ensured the clinic’s construction and paid for some of its start-up costs. Although funds are still being sought for the clinic’s operational expenses, business is brisk. In fiscal 2011, the clinic helped 518 individual patients for a total treatment value of $233,524.

The Jim Lund Clinic is building on the work of the McGill Mobile Dental Clinic, which has travelled to communities across the Montreal region to provide basic dental care to those in need for over 13 years. From lights and dental chairs to ultra-sonic cleaning units and sterilization equipment, the entire operation literally fits into a truck - and can be unpacked and readied for action in a mere 45 minutes.

“As instructors, we have a goal to select venues that give students a profile of the needs of our society,” says Dr. Bruce Dobby, BSc’76, DDS’81, who has supervised the mobile clinic for over a decade.

Thanks to the ongoing generosity of donors to the McGill Alma Mater Fund and Seeds of Change giving programs, the mobile clinic provides between $75,000 and $100,000 worth of treatments per year – and does so for free. To determine recipients, the Faculty builds relationships with agencies such as Sun Youth and CLSCs.

From Dr. Dobby’s viewpoint, both the mobile and Jim Lund clinics are win-win-wins. “It’s fulfilling for me because we’re helping these patients. It gives a heightened social awareness to the students and they enjoy it, and the patients benefit and enjoy it. It’s just completely rewarding.”