News Article

Oakville Beaver Newspaper: Dental students want everyone to share a smile

David Lea, OAKVILLE BEAVER STAFF

Oakville dental students wants everyone to share a smile

While many people may not like going to the dentist, doing so for most requires little more than driving down the street to the nearest dental office.

This, however, is not the case for many people with special needs, who must often travel long distances to get to a special dental clinic, which will meet their needs.

The issue is one Oakville native Alison Sigal is seeking to rectify.

Sigal, a third-year dental student at the University of Toronto is also the founder of Oral Health, Total Health (OHTH).

The non-profit organization is dedicated to addressing the lack of access to oral healthcare for people with special needs in order to bring about awareness and, ultimately, equality of care.

“The number one top unmet health need for people with special needs remains to be dentistry and nothing about this has changed in the past 30 years unfortunately,” said Sigal.

“Many individuals cannot receive local access to oral healthcare in their communities and many are travelling up to six hours, eight hours to come to Toronto to have a 15-minute checkup.”

The issue, Sigal said, is that many dentists, who have not treated people with special needs before, say they do not have the training. As a result, they refer people with special needs to special dental clinics like the one at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

Referring people with special needs to places where they can get specialized treatment is not efficient and has to change, said Sigal.

“The wait list for Sinai is now six months to one year,” she said.

“Many of these patients also live in group homes where oral healthcare is not as adequate as it should be. As a result, these individuals suffer from a greater prevalence of oral disease and that includes cavities, gum disease and everything else underneath the moon. They really should be seen by a dentist three to four times a year to make sure there are no infections or swelling that could compromise their quality of life.”

Sigal, whose father is the current head of the Mount Sinai Hospital Dental Clinic, said by the time many of patients are seen at Mount Sinai they are in agony from infections, which have developed in their mouths.

While Sigal acknowledges some patients will require care only a special dental clinic can provide, she said local dentists can do more with special needs patients than what they are doing right now.

“You can always do something. Some patients, they come in for literally three minutes. You have a toothbrush in your hand, you open their mouth, having a quick peek to make sure there’s no sign of infection, there’s no signs of decay, no teeth are fractured and that’s it. Other patients you can do a full cleaning on, no problem,” she said.

“At Sinai, the majority of patients who come in you take a look, give them a quick cleaning and send them on their way. It’s very disheartening when patients like that come and the families tell you they’ve called six or seven dentists and were refused.”

In an effort to make the next generation of dental practitioners more comfortable with treating people with special needs, OHTH has been holding special events called Sharing Smiles Days.

The event brings people with special needs and University of Toronto dental students together for a fun day of activities and dental information and demonstrations.

Students from the University of Western Ontario’s dental program participated in a Sharing Smiles Day event last year. Sigal hopes to see Sharing Smiles established at every dental school across the country.

Sigal said OHTH has been holding Sharing Smiles Days once a year for the past three years with the events growing in attendance each time.

Approximately 400 people attended last year’s event.

Sigal said that if these dental students even help just one special needs person a year, this will have an impact and help to reduce the wait times at the Mount Sinai clinic so the medically compromised people who really need to be seen can be seen.

This year’s Sharing Smiles Day event will take place in Oakville at Le Dome Banquet Hall on March 26.

For more information, visit http://ohth.ca.

Please follow this Link to view the Original article.

Click here to view more photos »