Rebecca, age nine, looks happy as she exits the UBC-run dental clinic at Florence Nightingale Elementary School. Equally pleased is her mother, Josefina Romero.
The fact that Rebecca can get free dental care is a great weight off her shoulders, says Romero, who immigrated to Vancouver from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with her husband and four children in 2006. “The clinic is very good for families who can’t afford dentists. Vancouver is very expensive for dentists, especially when there are six of us.”
This situation is not unique to the Romeros. Most of the 250 children at Florence Nightingale don’t usually see a dentist. According to school principal Jenny Chin Petersen, dental care has been the missing element in the drive to improve the overall wellness of the students in this Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.
The match was a natural. Last fall, the Faculty of Dentistry opened a dental clinic at Florence Nightingale as part of its Adopt a School Program to serve at-risk, inner city schools. Working with the Vancouver School Board, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Mount Pleasant Community Centre, the clinic is staffed by UBC general practice residents—licensed dentists who are doing advanced post-graduate training with the Faculty of Dentistry.
Chin Petersen says, “That means children from the most vulnerable families who don’t have insurance coverage or a regular dentist can receive the care they need.”
About 30 per cent of the children at Florence Nightingale experience pain from tooth decay and oral disease, notes Dr. Christopher Zed, associate dean of strategic and external affairs with the faculty.
“By providing oral health treatment and education, we hope to reduce absenteeism, sleep deprivation and improve classroom attentiveness due to lack of oral pain”, says Zed whose research looks at oral health disparities in under-served communities in Canada and internationally.
More than a “drill and fill relief program,” says Zed, the Adopt a School Program aims to improve overall oral health standards and knowledge among children and their families. Family members of children at Florence Nightingale can also get free oral health care from a UBC-led community volunteer dental clinic at the nearby Mount Pleasant Community Centre.
“The idea is to provide service to the entire family so there’s an integrated approach and lasting change in both the children and their parents’ health behaviour and attitudes,” says Zed.
Open year-round, the one-chair clinic at Florence Nightingale operates every second Thursday, between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.
For the past two years, UBC’s Doctor of Dental Medicine students have been coming to Florence Nightingale as part of their Professionalism and Community Service Program (PACS). Through games and exercises, the PACS students teach the children about oral health care, from proper brushing and flossing to smart food choices, for instance, crunchy apples versus sticky cupcakes.
“So when the dental clinic appeared, it wasn’t a new or scary thing for the kids. They were really familiar with the idea of dentists and what they do,” says Chin Petersen.