The city’s first dental clinic for low-income Londoners is marking its first anniversary with more than 2,200 procedures in the books and plans for extended hours on weeknights to keep up with demand.
The Wright Clinic at Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre has done 2,286 dental procedures – including fillings, root canals, extractions and routine cleanings – since it first opened early last April.
“Things have been going really smoothly,” said Dr. Ken Wright, a dentist and board chair of the Wright Clinic. “The clinic is very busy. We’ve had tremendous support from the local dental society.”
The program’s wait list is full, Wright said Sunday. The clinic caps its list at about 80 patients so the wait for services isn’t longer than two to three months. The clinic has been able to see 24 to 30 patients a week, a lower number than expected, Wright said, but a total to build on as the office enters its second year in business.
“We’re dealing with a population with a lot of barriers and challenges. It sometimes takes extra time to treat these patients,” he said. “You have to be patient and empathetic and listen to their concerns. That takes longer than a regular dental check-up.”
Clinic directors are looking at ways to offer appointments on two or three weeknights to reach more people, Wright said.
The pandemic has thrown the clinic some curveballs, including construction delays. Like other sectors struggling with labour shortages during the pandemic, they’ve had difficulty finding staff in the early months, Wright said.
The clinic found a dentist that was able to work three days a week and managed to fill the two remaining weekdays with volunteer dentists from the London area. What started out of necessity worked out so well for patients and the clinic’s bottom line that it’s keeping the arrangement moving forward, Wright said.
“Thursdays and Fridays are volunteer time. We’ve been really fortunate, we have a retired oral surgeon coming in every second Thursday afternoon,” Wright said. “We have the same thing with a prominent root canal dentist, or endodontist, in the city. He donates his time two Friday mornings a month.”
Emergency and preventative dental care isn’t covered by Ontario’s public health insurance plan.
The province offers dental benefits through its social assistance and Ontario Disability Support programs, but at rates that are often far below the cost of doing business in a standard dentistry practice. It can be a challenge for private practices to treat every case that comes through their doors.
The Wright Clinic’s not-for-profit model, and its support from volunteers and donations, allows it to take on these patients.
Prospective patients must be 18 or older and residents of London or Middlesex County. They must be receiving provincial social assistance or disability support, experiencing homelessness or be 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 that involved players from the dental programs at Western University and Fanshawe College, health agencies and the local dental association.
Wright said the clinic is negotiating with Fanshawe and Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry to get students, working under the direct supervision of dentists, into the clinic by the summer.
With the pandemic’s third-wave lockdown dashing any hope of a grand opening event last April, the clinic team is hoping to play host to a community open house this September.