Dentistry students open doors wide to serve community

(Edmonton) Students in the University of Alberta’s School of Dentistry put on a clinic Feb. 12 to provide free dental services for hundreds of Edmontonians who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Now in its 21st year, this was the first time the annual Open Wide clinic was held in the school’s new home at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic.

Since it began in 1992, the Open Wide clinic has helped more than 10,000 Edmontonians receive dental screenings and exams, fillings, teeth cleanings and extractions at no cost to them.

More than 250 patients, identified by community groups as low-income patients in need of care, were booked in and received treatment. All hands were on deck as all four years of dental students, senior dental hygiene students and NAIT dental assistant students assisted patients.

“This day is about providing an important service to members of our community who struggle with access to basic dental care, and about our ability as students and faculty at the University of Alberta to give back,” said David Leoni, a fourth-year DDS student.

“It is a very hectic day in our clinics, but the experience that the students receive is invaluable, and the service to the community is essential,” said Steven Patterson, Open Wide committee member and associate chair (academic) in the School of Dentistry.

Contributing to the community—locally and globally

The school and its students contribute to the community in other ways too. The student-run SHINE Dental Clinic provides a variety of free dental services to Edmonton’s underserved youth. Managed and staffed by licensed dentists and by U of A dentistry students, the SHINE Clinic offers a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for Edmonton’s youth to receive oral health care. The clinic operates on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon out of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.

In the fall of 2012, the School of Dentistry led a fundraising campaign to update the existing Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Oral Health Services Clinic with new equipment, and to expand the clinic’s capacity from four dated operatories to eight new operatories. The Glenrose Clinic provides unique access to dental care for older adults with mobility challenges, and also provides dentistry and dental hygiene students with an increased opportunity for hands-on learning through “student enhanced” clinics.

“Our experiences during the rotations at the Glenrose Dental Clinic were nothing short of eye-opening,” said Nadia Kobagi, 2012 dental hygiene graduate. “These rotations allowed us to interact and work on clients we would not normally have the opportunity to see at the School of Dentistry clinic.”

Eager to share what they are learning and to help others around the world, the students also go beyond Canada’s borders in their philanthropic efforts. Recently, the Dental Students’ Association raised $35,000 for the non-profit organization Dentistry for All. Dentistry for All is 100 per cent run and supported by volunteers, and its members are dedicated to providing dental education and preventative, surgical and restorative care to the poor in numerous developing communities around the world.

The students’ association has been raising money for Dentistry for All and for Kindness in Action for the past three years, alternating each year between the two non-profit organizations. Funds raised go toward purchasing necessary equipment and supplies needed to run the clinics abroad. All dental volunteers cover their own travel costs. During Reading Week this year, 16 more dentistry and dental hygiene students will head out to participate in a dental mission.