Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dental Assisting students provide care to the community

Dental Assisting student Iris Mai works with Dr. Lauwers, a volunteer dentist, at Community Dental Day April 21.
By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor
Photos by David Denofreo

Most of us have at least one story about a time we suffered agonizing tooth pain, which usually ended with a visit to the dentist, where we get a filling, extraction or root canal. End of story.

But for thousands of low-income residents in the Lower Mainland, dental care is out of reach, and tooth pain, gum disease and other ailments are a grim and enduring reality.

To address this need and to give students experience working on real patients, the Douglas College Dental Assisting Program operates free clinics out of the New Westminster Campus for both children and adults.

Every April for the past 12 years, Dental Assisting students take part in a community dental day for adult patients from New Westminster with no access to dental care. The students assist volunteer dentists, hygienists and dental assistants, as well as dental and dental hygiene students from UBC.

The clinic gives students a chance to work in real time with practising dentists, and also gives them the opportunity to see challenging patients with extensive medical histories, concurrent illnesses and different disabilities.

“We treat people who tell us they’ve been turned away from other places because of their complex medical histories, or because of a lack of wheelchair access,” says Debbie McCloy, Coordinator of the Dental Assisting Program at Douglas. “So the students really have a chance to give to the community while gaining valuable hands-on experience.”

Courtney Bertrand, a student who worked at this year’s clinic, held April 21, says making a positive impact on someone’s life was “truly amazing.”

“One patient I worked with needed quite a lot of work,” says Courtney. “We couldn’t meet all his needs, but we did as much as we could. What touched my heart was the look of thanks in his eyes afterwards. He couldn’t thank us enough.”

Satisfied customer: a patient at Dental Community Day is pain-free with the help of Dental Assisting student Elyse Reynolds.
As well, every May, students do polishings, fluoride treatments, desensitizing and fissure sealants for people in the community at a reduced cost. They also do checkups for kids attending John Robson School, across the street from the New Westminster Campus, who later come to Douglas for treatment if necessary.

“John Robson is considered an inner-city school,” says Debbie, “so for a lot of these children, this is the only dental care they receive.”

Alisha Charboneau, a student who worked with one of the kids from the school, says she loved giving back to the community in this way.

“My patient was an eight-year-old who was afraid of treatment,” Alisha says. “By working with her I put her fears to rest and created a positive experience for her. She left the appointment happy.”

Douglas also has two partnerships with UBC to provide dental care to people in need. One involves Douglas students assisting UBC dental students in working on high-needs children, and the other sees Douglas students assisting UBC dental hygiene students in treating patients for gum disease.

Debbie says the clinics are an invaluable opportunity for students to realize what they’ve learned and to put their skills into practice.

“It is very empowering and motivating for them,” she says. “And they find it rewarding because the patients are invariably grateful.”

For proof, look no further than the testimonials of the patients themselves. As one patient, Dan, stated in an email to Debbie:
I just wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude. Had the work done yesterday and I'm really appreciative of the efforts you took to organize the activity. Thank you deeply for my first night free of tooth pain.
Find out more about the Douglas College Dental Assisting Program on our website.