Pioneering dental clinic for low-income Londoners celebrates first anniversary

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The city’s first dental clinic for low-income Londoners is celebrating its first anniversary with more than 2,200 procedures on the books and planning extended hours on weeknights to meet demand.

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The Wright Clinic at the Glen Cairn Community Resource Center has performed 2,286 dental procedures – including fillings, root canals, extractions and routine cleanings – since it opened in early April.

“Things have been going very well,” said Dr. Ken Wright, dentist and chairman of the Wright Clinic board of directors. “The clinic is very busy. We received tremendous support from the local dental society.

The program’s waiting list is full, Wright said Sunday. The clinic caps its list at around 80 patients, so the wait for services is no more than two to three months. The clinic was able to see 24 to 30 patients a week, a number lower than expected, Wright said, but a total to build on as the office enters its second year of operation.

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“We are dealing with a population with many obstacles and challenges. Sometimes it takes longer to treat these patients,” he said. “You have to be patient and empathetic and listen to their concerns. It takes longer than a regular dental checkup.

Clinic directors are looking for ways to offer appointments two or three weeknights to reach more people, Wright said.

The pandemic has thrown the clinic some curve balls, including construction delays. Like other industries struggling with labor shortages during the pandemic, they struggled to find staff in the first few months, Wright said.

The clinic found a dentist who could work three days a week and was able to fill the remaining two weekdays with volunteer dentists from the London area. What started out of necessity has worked so well for patients and clinic outcomes that it allows the arrangement to move forward, Wright said.

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“Thursdays and Fridays are volunteer time. We’ve been really lucky we have a retired oral surgeon who comes in every second Thursday afternoon,” Wright said. “We have the same with a leading root canal dentist, or endodontist, in the city. He gives his time two Friday mornings a month.

Emergency and preventive dental care is not covered by Ontario’s public health insurance plan.

The province provides dental benefits through its Ontario Disability Support and Social Assistance programs, but at rates that are often far below the cost of doing business in a standard dental practice. It can be difficult for private practices to handle all the cases that come through their doors.

The Wright Clinic’s not-for-profit model and its support through volunteers and donations allow it to care for these patients.

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Prospective patients must be aged 18 or over and resident in London or County Middlesex. They must be receiving provincial social assistance or disability support, be homeless or have a low income, as defined by Statistics Canada.

The clinic is the culmination of years of work by the London Community Dental Alliance, a registered charity which has involved players from Western University and Fanshawe College dental programs, health agencies and the dental association local.

Wright said the clinic was negotiating with Fanshawe and Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry to have students, working under the direct supervision of dentists, arrive at the clinic by the summer.

With the third wave pandemic lockdown dashing any hopes of a grand opening event last April, the clinic team hopes to host a community open house in September.

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