Allison Hanes: Dental program for vulnerable people in Montreal is expanding

Welcome Hall Mission donors contribute $800,000 to help double partnership with McGill University’s dental program.

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Pierre Serge Grenon has long had the habit of grinding his teeth.

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Every time the stress in his life increased, the tension got worse – until the 70-year-old said he was in constant pain and his teeth were badly damaged.

“When your teeth hurt, it affects everything,” Grenon said. “I had trouble sleeping. My jaw hurt. I have a headache. It was torture. »

But on top of his agony, he couldn’t afford to see a dentist. Quebec only covers emergency dental care, limited service for welfare recipients, and some basic procedures for children under 10. Everyone else has to pay out of pocket unless they have private insurance. This leaves approximately 27% of Quebecers without access.

“If you don’t have money, you have no choice but to suffer,” Grenon said.

With the minority Liberal federal government promising to roll out a national dental plan in exchange for support from the opposition New Democratic Party, the wait could still be a long one for those in Grenon’s position.

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Fortunately, he was finally able to find relief this spring thanks to the Welcome Hall Mission which, in partnership with the McGill University dental program, treats some of the most vulnerable Montrealers. Since 2011, the Mission has operated the Jim Lund Dental Clinic at its main facility in St-Henri, while McGill has provided dentists among its faculty and students.

Now the program is doubling in size with $800,000 raised from Welcome Hall donors. It will soon be able to offer up to 8,000 procedures a year, add new equipment, increase hours of operation and offer more specialized services, said Dr. Elham Emami, Dean of McGill University’s Faculty of Dentistry and Oral Health Sciences.

The clinic also opens on Saturdays to facilitate the consultation of people. And there is also a specialist in prosthodontics available, to handle complex cases such as the restoration and replacement of damaged or missing teeth.

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“Our dentists do a lot of extractions. When you extract teeth, it means that the person has not had the opportunity to restore their teeth to an earlier stage. Like all diseases, it starts small, maybe with cavities, then progresses to extraction when we can’t do anything,” Emami said. “Poverty is a determinant of poor oral health. The socio-economic determinants are there. That’s why you see it.

Once the teeth are removed, a full or partial denture or prosthesis is required. The clinic referred patients elsewhere for these services and helped fund the cost.

“Now, with this new clinic with the new equipment, we can also provide more specialized care. So one of the new pieces of equipment, for example, that we are bringing over there is a panoramic (x-ray) that we didn’t have before, which will allow us to do more diagnosis of the disease,” Emami said. . “Hopefully in the future we can do more rehabilitation, so dentures, partial dentures, those would be some of the services that we’re actually looking at doing there.”

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McGill University dental student Ziad Al Asmar with patient Alix Johanna Canon Chavez at the Welcome Hall Mission's Jim Lund Dental Clinic on Thursday, May 12, 2022.
McGill University dental student Ziad Al Asmar with patient Alix Johanna Canon Chavez at the Welcome Hall Mission’s Jim Lund Dental Clinic on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, said many Montrealers from diverse backgrounds simply cannot afford basic dental care, among them: newcomers, homeless people and those living below the threshold. of poverty and who are not eligible for social assistance. . Although it is increasingly recognized that oral health is an important part of overall health, too many people are being left behind by the cracks in the system.

“So far it’s just something our donors have funded,” he said. “I always get questions from donors who say, ‘Why are we funding this when it should be part of basic health care?’ And I say, ‘Well, because right now it’s not.’ ”

But the tide may be turning. Quebec policymakers realize that the province has fallen far behind in dental care, with long-term repercussions for the entire health care system. And federal political leaders are discussing a national program, which would hopefully be accompanied by the required funding.

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If these initiatives progress, the pioneering work of Welcome Hall Mission and McGill could serve as a model.

“The community dentistry model is an important way to deliver the service,” Watts said. “One of the ways to achieve this improvement is to provide disadvantaged or vulnerable people with the opportunity to access something that is appropriate in their community and to benefit from dental care with dignity. For us, all dignity is a big issue at the Mission.

The importance of dental health is overlooked, Emami said, even though studies have found associations between oral disease and colorectal and heart problems.

“Besides the impact on physical health, there is also an impact on psychosocial well-being, self-esteem, quality of life,” she said. “There are several articles and a fair amount of evidence that tooth loss and oral disease have a real impact on sociological aspects of health and mental health as well.”

Basic dental care can make a big difference. Once Grenon got his appointment with the Welcome Hall Mission dentist, he was offered help right away.

“I didn’t even need to come back. Now there is no more pain,” he said. “This clinic saves lives. They are angels… angels on Earth.

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