North York dentist Dr. Diana Wong is seeing older adults who have neglected their oral health for years, some who haven’t had a cleaning or seen a dentist in a decade.
“We have patients who are in pain, who have infections, who just don’t have money. They’ve gone to other dentists to address their issue, but they haven’t gone past the first consultation appointment because they can’t afford the next step,” she says. “We’re the place where this is the end of the road. They have no other options.”
Wong is one of two dentists at the Toronto Public Health (TPH) dental clinic located in Black Creek Community Health Centre (BCCHC) at Yorkgate Mall in the Jane and Finch area. The dental clinic, which opened Oct. 31, is geared to low-income older adults who live in the neighbourhood.
“We have a need, especially with how many seniors have neglected their oral health,” Wong said in a recent interview, noting the clinic has a long wait-list that’s booked into June. “When you’re a senior, you’re looking for quality of life, basic things like eating your favourite food. … They might have broken their denture or they’re missing so many teeth now they can’t eat properly.”
Services offered at the clinic include oral exams, cleanings, fillings, extractions, dentures and specialized oral surgery.
“We do have walk-in emergencies as well,” Wong said. “We are definitely preventing these patients from walking into the emergency department at the hospital.”
Wong, a dentist since 2012, stressed the mouth isn’t a separate entity from the rest of the body. “It’s not only about having a nice smile,” she said, adding gum disease can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Francis Francois, a resident of the Jane and Finch area, is happy about the addition of a dental clinic at Black Creek Community Health Centre. | Dan Pearce/Metroland
Area resident Francis Francois, 60, who attends BCCHC to see a dietician, said he has also registered at the dental clinic and is happy about the new service, especially being right in his neighbourhood.
The dental clinic, open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, will serve an estimated 1,700 people annually, according to TPH.
Cheryl Prescod is executive director of Black Creek Community Health Centre. | Dan Pearce/Metroland
BCCHC executive director Cheryl Prescod said the demand for dental services in the area is “extraordinary,” adding the community has been asking for the services for many years.
“When the word got out that this program was coming, we had so many people coming and putting their name down,” Prescod said. “They had no other way of getting dental care because of (low) income and lack of money.”
BCCHC offers a range of health services that go beyond treating the sick.
“It’s not just about going to the doctor, for example, and getting a prescription. It’s about going to a doctor, a medical professional, but being able to address some of your life situations and life issues,” Prescod said.
The agency has community health workers who work with local residents on social issues like housing, employment and education, which dental clinic clients may also have access to.
“Our role is to ensure that the (dental) clients that come to our centre can also be referred to some of our services, and some of our service recipients also get access to the (dental) care, so it’s a win-win situation for us in that we’re able to serve the community and meet as many of their needs as possible in one space,” Prescod said. “It’s like a one-stop shop health-care delivery model.”
Prescod noted the dental clinic is having a “tremendous” impact on local older adults.
“Many of them live alone. Many of them are on social assistance, and the fact that they have the convenience of coming to our centre and accessing this care as well as other things while they’re there is priceless,” she said. “It ultimately will save our overall health-care system a lot of money because if their health is taken care of in a proactive way, they will not get as sick and end up in the emergency room.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When reporter Andrew Palamarchuk learned about a Toronto Public Health dental clinic that recently opened in the Jane and Finch area, he wanted to find out more about the clinic and the impact it’s having in the community.