By Jodi Sturge, Director, Homelessness Initiatives
If neglected, oral hygiene issues can impact a person’s overall health. Yet for a lot of EFry clients, professional dental care is out of financial reach. Thanks to a unique partnership between EFry and the UBC Faculty of Dentistry, we are pleased to introduce free weekly dental hygiene clinics for our clients. While launched, this five-year initiative is in its developmental phase so is available only to regular EFry clients at this time. We hope to open the clinic up to a broader client base as the program evolves.
Planning for the clinic began a year ago, when EFry contacted Dr. Leeann Donnelly, assistant professor with the UBC Faculty of Dentistry, about operating a student-run community clinic in New Westminster that could benefit at-risk women.
Before setting up the clinic, EFry and Dr. Donnelly collaborated on a series of focus groups with women and staff to identify what kind of oral health care clients needed most, as well as their knowledge of maintaining oral health. Following this needs assessment, EFry provided trauma training to the dental hygiene students who staff the clinic, as many clients have sensitivities that must be respected for them to be comfortable receiving dental care.
The clinic was opened in September and operates on Wednesdays from our Maida Duncan Drop-in Centre in New Westminster. Clients are able to receive oral assessments, cleanings, oral health education and referrals for more extensive dental services. We are able to support up to eight patients a day and have been nearly fully booked since its launch.
For now, the clinic is advertised through the Maida Duncan Drop-in Centre. Clients book appointments through a service offered by another EFry partner, the Lu’ma Native Housing Society. Lu’ma operates a service called Community Voice Mail which enables women to book appointments and communicate directly with the dental hygiene students through confidential messages.
Early client feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. EFry is grateful to UBC Dentistry for working with us and appreciative of how open their team has been to input and feedback as the program develops.
In addition to helping women and providing their dental hygiene students with practical experience, UBC Dentistry will apply learnings from this program to its research on oral health care for marginalized women. Currently, little investigation has been done on supporting this population. As well, UBC is exploring options for research around pediatric dentistry as it relates the children of marginalized women. EFry looks forward to the possibility of expanding our dental clinic to include clients’ children as part of that process.