Dental school opens wide for local kids

UAlberta School of Dentistry partnership with Edmonton-area schools helps children in need of oral health care.


(Edmonton) Going to the dentist may not be every kid’s idea of a fun field trip, but for young students at St. Maria Goretti Elementary School in Edmonton—and dental students at the University of Alberta—it’s a chance to get an early start on essential health care.

For five weeks every year, the U of A’s School of Dentistry provides dental care for about 150 children in lower socio-economic areas of Edmonton. Six schools across the capital region are selected each year to be part of the School Visit Program. The young students, in kindergarten through Grade 6, are bused to the School of Dentistry dental clinics to get a checkup, cleaning and basic dental treatment.

“What most people don’t realize is that your child should start going to see a dentist when they turn one year old, or at the first sight of a tooth,” says Maryam Amin, associate professor and division head of pediatric dentistry at the School of Dentistry. “Visiting the dentist in a child’s early years will lessen the fear they may have as they grow older.”

Along with promoting good oral heath in children, the School Visit Program gives low-income parents an opportunity for their children to have access to dental care. The program also serves as a bridge between the School of Dentistry and Alberta Health Services’ dental public health program, which identifies high-needs schools across Edmonton for participation in the program.

School eligibility is based on a history of high dental needs in the school, and the willingness of the school to arrange a parent information meeting and to assist in transporting students to the U of A. In the case of St. Maria Goretti School, the cost of the bus is covered by the school’s parent council.

“The parents at St. Maria Goretti School are highly supportive of this program,” said Karen Craig, principal of the school. “More than 50 per cent of the parents have provided consent for their child to participate in the program.”

Craig accompanies the children when they come for their visit on Wednesday mornings. “For some, it’s like a field trip,” she says, adding that it’s a “win-win situation” because the dental students get to learn and the children receive much-needed treatment.

Althea, 6, a St. Maria Goretti student, is receiving treatment through the program. “She needed quite a bit of work,” says her mom Khailah. “I just want to make sure her teeth are getting fixed because my daughter is my priority.”

The School Visit Program is a team effort, says Ida Kornerup, clinical assistant professor in the School of Dentistry. “It takes a lot of staff to help make this happen,” she says. “There are the patient services clerks, the registered dental assistants, the dental hygienists, the clinic supervisor and, of course, the students who provide the treatment.”