News Article

Good News Toronto: A Smile Worth Sharing

Original Posted:Good News Toronto and OHTH

March 6th, Reporter: Lee Anne Wine

Many understand and have experienced the frustration of spending hours in a doctor’s office only to be examined for less than fifteen minutes and then sent on their way. What if you were referred by your local dentist’s office to another clinic eight hours away for a basic dental visit lasting no more than fifteen minutes? You might reasonably ask why this journey would be worth making, and what alternatives currently exist in our healthcare industry. Unfortunately, this is a reality that patients with special needs face on a daily basis in order to receive the most basic of oral health care.

Ali Sigal, founder of OHTH (Oral Health Total Health), is a third-year dentistry student studying at the University of Toronto. Ali recognized a crucial need to address the lack of education that dentists receive surrounding patients with special needs. OHTH is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and improving oral health care for persons with disabilities.

Digging deep into her research at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Ali discovered that a vast number of patients with special needs were being referred and traveling many hours to the hospital for basic check-ups. With so many patients being unnecessarily diverted to Mt. Sinai, the waiting list grows for many patients with medically compromised states that require treatment within a hospital clinic. The waiting list has now grown as much as six months to a year for a patient to be seen. While this is typical for specialist appointments in the healthcare industry, this certainly need not be the case for the most basic of check-ups.

When Ali followed up with dentists to find out why they are unable or unwilling to treat those with disabilities at their local offices, it became clear that perhaps there is a lack of training and confidence when it comes to dealing with special needs patients. Ali says, “It wasn’t the dentists’ unwillingness to help special needs patients, but that they did not feel as though they had the confidence or capabilities to help these individuals within their own practices.” When properly educated about treatment for special needs patients, dentists can put to rest some very common misconceptions and underlying worries. “Dentists will embrace the opportunity to help, and, over time, build the confidence to treat patients with special needs,” Ali says. “In turn, this will reduce lengthy waiting lists and extensive travel — a transformation that is sure to have a positive effect on all parties involved.”

Ali works tirelessly to organize Sharing Smiles Day, an event held each March to bring together individuals with special needs, their care workers, and dental students to enjoy a day of bonding, fun, and, most importantly, education. With the purpose of building positive relationships between the two groups outside of the dental clinic and helping patients with special needs understand how to take better care of their own oral health, the event is free for all attendees. “It is up to our generation to make a change,” Ali states. “If every student participating gets four years worth of Sharing Smiles Day, then […] they will hopefully feel more comfortable with treating these individuals upon graduation.” This is no small feat to accomplish and will have a hugely positive effect on local communities, those suffering from disabilities, and our overall healthcare system.

For more information on how you can help, please visit or contact Ali Sigal at [email protected]

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