The McGill University Faculty of Dentistry Outreach Program has grown steadily in the number of clinics held, services provided, patients treated, sites visited, and extent of student involvement. When the program first began in 1998, six clinics were held at three sites with three referring agencies, and only fourth-year students participated. Today, eighteen clinics at six different sites are held, all enrolled students participate, and twenty-four community agencies refer those patients who are most needy and would not otherwise have access to dental care.
The Outreach Program has provided free dental care to more than 800 patients over six years. Most patients are seen over two appointments so that basic treatments can be completed and a feeling of trust can be established. Clinics aim not only to make dental care more accessible to high-risk populations, but also to reduce the psychological stressors and barriers that patients may face. New patients are constantly being added, and many of the referring agencies now have a waiting list. For its effectiveness, the Program has received the 2000 Canadian Dental Association Oral Health Promotion Award, among other honours, and the affiliated Maimonides Outreach Dental Clinic won the 2003 “Prix Qualité” from the Quebec Association of CLSCs and CHSLDs. In 2005 the Program received a silver medal for the Best Community Outreach Program in the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education “Prix d’Excellence” Competition.
The unprecedented mobility of the Outreach Program allows for the direct provision of dental care at safe, accessible community sites. By increasing patients’ comfort levels and decreasing their fear of dental professionals, patients are more likely to eventually seek dental treatment either at the more affordable university centres or at private clinics when they may finally have the financial means to do so. For those who could not otherwise afford dental care, the McGill University Faculty of Dentistry Outreach Program provides a vital service to neglected and high-risk populations.