By McGill Reporter Staff
For people on a tight budget dental care is often one of the first things to go by the board as the fees for dental hygiene and maintenance can seem too high. This is why so many people are smiling at the news that the Jim Lund Dental Clinic – Montreal’s first permanent, free dental care clinic – will continue serving the community following the renewal of the innovative partnership between the Faculty of Dentistry and the Welcome Hall Mission (WHM).
Under the renewed agreement, the Faculty of Dentistry will continue to offer free dental services at the WHM for at least another five years. The Clinic, housed at the WHM, in Montreal’s St. Henri neighbourhood, opened in 2011. It is jointly funded through philanthropic donations by the Mission and the Faculty of Dentistry. The Clinic provides low-income families, homeless men and women, and new immigrants enrolled at the WHM shelter, with access to services that would otherwise be out of reach. The Clinic is open five days a week and serves some 3,400 people per year. In the last five years the clinic has provided almost $2-million worth of free dental services.
The clinic is named in memory of Dr. Jim Lund, McGill’s long-time Dean of Dentistry, who died suddenly in December 2009. Lund was a passionate advocate of quality dental care for all members of society, and it was during his tenure that the Faculty’s Outreach Program was established.
“I did not know James Lund personally, but he was the Dean while I was still a student in the Faculty of Dentistry. I think he would have been very proud of how far McGill’s Outreach program has come,” says Dr. Paul Sweet, DMD and head of the Jim Lund Dental Clinic. “He was the pioneering force behind the establishment of the Outreach Program and was committed to public oral health and removing the barriers that prevent or restrict those most vulnerable from accessing dental care. “
Studies show that poor oral health can have severe repercussions on overall health. In some cases, people who couldn’t afford to see a dentist have taken matters into their own hands by swishing with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to deal with a tooth infection, or by rubbing crushed aspirin pills on gums to numb pain.
“The people we see are from underprivileged, disadvantaged and vulnerable segments of the population. They are on a very limited budget and have other priorities that come before dental care (food, clothing, shelter for themselves and their families),” says Dr. Sweet. “They often suffer with pain and infection because they are financially unable to seek appropriate care. This can be compounded by a lack of awareness or education, and poor, improper or inadequate dental treatment in their home country. This can have an effect on their ability to eat and speak, as well as on their appearance and consequently on their confidence and self-esteem (they can be self-conscious or even ashamed to speak and smile).”
Sweet says that the majority of the Clinic’s patients have recently arrived in Canada. “They are either new immigrants or refugees, with most of them coming from Northern Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe or South America,” says Dr. Sweet. “Many native Montrealers who are unemployed or low income are already receiving welfare and have basic dental care covered through RAMQ. We also see many retirement-age patients who are no longer eligible for welfare (and the basic dental coverage it provides), and are surviving on only their pension. “
But for Sam Watts, Director of the WHM, the clinic offers its patients even more than just access to professional dental care.
“We are in the business of poverty prevention, of trying to prevent people from falling deeper into poverty,” says Watts. “We want to provide access and dignity. Getting your teeth fixed means that you will feel better, but also that you will be more confident in general. If you have a job interview and can smile with confidence, your chances of getting that job are that much better. For the roughly 200,000 people who form the working poor on Montreal Island that is an important thing.”
The Clinic is an offshoot of the Faculty of Dentistry’s Mobile Dental Clinic which, for almost two decades, has travelled to communities across the Montreal region providing basic dental care to over 300 patients annually. In 2011, the Faculty joined forces with the WHM, to add a Clinic to the program.
Treatments offered include:
- complete dental examinations
- regular and deep cleaning (under local anesthetic)
- simple fillings, simple extractions
- referrals to the Montreal General Hospital in emergency cases
Under the supervision of Faculty members, third- and fourth-year Dentistry students, along with dental hygiene students from John Abbott College, care for the bulk of the Clinic’s patients. The organizers hope that the time spent in the Clinic will benefit these prospective dentists. Students are exposed to disadvantaged and vulnerable populations with the goal of treating disease and pain, but also to promote oral health education. If patients are better educated, their new awareness, knowledge and tools will help them do their part in the prevention of disease and dental decay. Through this commitment to the community, the Faculty of Dentistry hopes to develop oral health professionals who have a sense of altruism, responsibility to the public and society, and a social conscience.