Low-income Central Albertans who have been relying on Red Deer hospital’s emergency department for help with dental pain and infections can now access a new public health dental clinic in the city.
Alberta Health Services (AHS), GreenShield and Red Deer Street Connect partnered to open the AHS Public Health Dental Clinic which has provided over 300 appointments since it opened in June.
The clinic is for Alberta residents without dental insurance of any kind, people with income under low-income cutoff limits, and/or with a direct referral from the hospital emergency department for a specific dental emergency.
AHS says people without dental insurance, or who are low income, can often be more vulnerable to poor oral health outcomes. This can often lead to individuals visiting hospital emergency departments instead of dental clinics for their oral health issues and emergencies.
Dr. Heidi Rabie, division chief of public health dental clinics with AHS, said in Canada about one per cent of emergency department visits are for dental pain.
She said the new Red Deer clinic, located at South Gaetz Medical Centre near Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, can reduce those visits, as well as serve people with addictions and mental health.
“Instead of patients having to go to the emergency departments because they don’t have the finances to head towards a dental clinic, they’re able to come see us over here so we can take a load off the emergency department,” Rabie said.
The clinic, supported by a $1.5-million grant from the not-for-profit health and benefits company GreenShield, is staffed by dentists and registered dental assistants with two fully equipped dental treatment rooms to serve the area’s high demand for dental needs.
Clients will be referred to the clinic through services like Street Connect, the Primary Care Network Street Clinic, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and other services, such as the opioid dependency program. The clinic will provide basic care to patients, responding to common dental concerns such as cavities, toothaches and the need for extractions.
Two similar clinics have been operating in Calgary that have a total of 12 dental chairs. The Red Deer clinic has been open two days a week, but is expanding to three days, and a fourth day will be added later this year to address the waitlist for dental care.
Rabie said it took almost two years for planning and construction of the Red Deer clinic due to the pandemic. On Monday during an official ceremony at the clinic, she spoke about one of her patients, a woman in her late 40s who was healthy today, but lost most of her teeth in her youth because of addiction. The woman has worked and saved enough money for dentures, but couldn’t afford to remove some decayed teeth.
“She would talk with her hand over her mouth. It became habitual. She was embarrassed. It was heartbreaking to see,” said Rabie who handed her patient a mirror to look at her new dentures.
“She saw herself and the tears began to flow,” said the dentist who admitted to a few tears of her own.
“The importance of oral health and its impact on our overall health and wellbeing can be easy to overlook. However the connection is undeniable,” Rabie said.
Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the clinic will help provide preventative dental care to those who are vulnerable so they won’t end up at the emergency department with complex medical issues.
“This makes sense. Let’s help people get what they need as early as possible so they don’t end up in hospital. And if they’re in hospital, is there a better place for them to be that can look after their care need,” LaGrange said
“We are very fortunate here in Alberta, as a province, we do provide dental health care to a vast majority of individuals with low income, etc. But there was a gap and this is filling a gap that needs to be addressed.”
The AHS Public Health Dental Clinic is co-located with other services that support low-income individuals in Red Deer, such as AHS Street Connect and the Red Deer PCN Street Clinic, which rounds out the suite of services offered at that location.
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