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They came in under the cover of darkness, set up the tools of their trade quickly, served the public and left a trail of gleaming white smiles in their wake. An old-style traveling circus? No, the McGill Dentistry Outreach Program.
On Feb. 21, a crew of McGill dentistry students, under the direction of Bruce Dobby and Yu Kwong Li, set up their mobile clinic at Fimijeunes, a community organization serving the St-Henri and Little Burgundy neighbourhoods. In all, 16 patients were given free check-ups, cleanings, X-rays and other basic dental services.
McGill's program is unique in Quebec, where all other outreach programs require patients to go to hospitals or established clinics. Fully mobile, McGill's "healers on wheels" actually go out into the community they serve, neatly packing their compressors, portable chairs and dental equipment into the back of a van. "It is quite magical to watch," said Marnie Taylor, administrator of the program, referring both to the quick transformation of an empty room to a working clinic and the interaction of fledgling dentists and an appreciative clientele.
Launched in 1998, the outreach program has provided dental care to more than 1,000 disadvantaged Montrealers who don't have access to such services. Patients include the elderly, homeless people, street people, recent immigrants, the working poor and people with physical or psychological challenges.
The program has proven so essential that it has been integrated into the curriculum at the Faculty of Dentistry under a mandatory course called "Community Dental Clinics." As such, all dental and pre-dent students are required to participate in the clinics.
Not only do students get invaluable clinical experience under the supervision of established dentists, they come away with a deeper sense of what it means to serve. "We take them into some pretty tough places," said Dobby, "and they see firsthand the very real need that is out there. This type of program is essential to their education as health practitioners because, hopefully, it will instill in them a sense of social conscience."