5,000 procedures, 300 emergency cases: City’s low-cost dental clinic filling a need

More than five years since plans for the dental clinic for low-income Londoners got underway, and about 18 months since it quietly opened, the Wright Clinic has treated more than 600 patients.

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Planning hurdles, construction cost overruns and COVID-19 curveballs to top it all off.

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More than five years since plans for the dental clinic for low-income Londoners got underway, and about 18 months since it quietly opened, the Wright Clinic has treated more than 600 patients.

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“Things have been going well,” clinic founder Ken Wright said Friday. “We’ve done over 5,000 dental procedures and treated more than 300 emergency cases, which is a real help for our hospitals because many of those cases end up going to the emergency room.”

The dental clinic, located on the second floor of the Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre, opened without much fanfare in April 2021, while the pandemic’s third wave was bearing down on Ontario, a situation so dire London was taking critically ill COVID-19 patients from overrun Toronto hospitals.

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Continued pandemic activity through the Omicron wave last winter dashed the clinic’s plans for a proper grand opening, the public getting a first glimpse of the office at a pandemic-delayed open house Friday.

Wright, a principal architect of the public dental clinic at Western University’s Schulich school of medicine and dentistry, noticed demand for affordable dental services for low-income Londoners greatly outpaced supply in the city. The idea for a dedicated clinic was born.

Emergency and preventative dental care isn’t covered by Ontario’s public health insurance plan, but many people have dental coverage through their workplace benefits.

Ontario does fund dental care through its social assistance and disability support programs, but the rates are often far below the cost of doing business in a standard dentist office, meaning private practices can be reluctant to treat every case that comes along.

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The Wright Clinic’s not-for-profit model, and its support from volunteers and donations, allows it to take on these patients and other Londoners who meet the Statistics Canada low-income benchmarks.

The 1,500-square-foot clinic has four treatment rooms and has all the latest equipment, including an X-ray machine, Wright said.

The office has a staff dentist who works three days a week, Wright said, while London-area dentists volunteer to fill in on the remaining two days. The clinic has not only attracted general dentist and dental hygienist volunteers, but dental specialists too.

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“We’re able to do root canals, which are extremely expensive, and complex extractions,” Wright said.

The clinic’s roster of volunteers has done about 300 hours of work at the clinic since it opened, he said.

The clinic is open five days a week and recently extended hours on two evenings, Wright said. A third evening will be added soon.

Demand for services at the clinic has been intense since it opened, Wright said.

The clinic also has been able to make use of student volunteers – a key piece of its initial business plan – from both Schulich and Fanshawe College’s dental program.

“Senior dental students from Schulich and hygiene and dental assistant students from Fanshawe work under supervision and are able to do outreach work right here in London,” Wright said.

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“It’s really great experience for them and it helps us expand our service as well.”

The road to get the clinic up and running has been a windy one, Wright said. There were the usual zoning and planning hurdles early on, followed by construction estimates that came in at double what they’d originally thought, he said. The pandemic caused more delays and labour shortages made finding staff more difficult in the early days of the clinic.

Wright is grateful for the groundswell of community support for the clinic – including from the Middlesex-London Health Unit, London Intercommunity Health Centre, Western, Fanshawe and the London and District Dental Society – and the behind-the-scenes work of the board.

“We’ve got this fantastic board,” he said. “With all the expertise of the board we’ve been able to meet those challenges and finally get into operation.”

jbieman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JenatLFPress

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