What is the biggest problem with having poor teeth?
The answer, according to Nelson dentist Dr. Matt Osepchook, is obvious — pain.
“I saw a 12-year-old girl half an hour ago. She eats everything with the few good teeth left in her mouth,” said Osepchook. “For a child like that, she’s probably not getting good nourishment, and anytime she’s sitting in class she’s in pain, so it has a massive affect on her. How is she possibly going to thrive?”
“When you see kids in that scenario, you think, ‘Wow, can’t we eliminate this from the plethora of hurdles that they already have to face in order to integrate into the world?’ It’s a pretty big deal.”
Like 40 per cent of the people in the Kootenay Boundary region, this girl’s parent does not have dental insurance. She earns too much for her and her kids to be eligible for social assistance, yet has no benefits or insurance plan at work, and struggles to keep food on the table and the rent paid with nothing left for luxuries like dental care.
For her, the support of the West Kootenay Community Teeth Clinic Society has been a godsend. For the past three years, she and over 1,000 others have received high quality dental care, having to pay only 60 per cent of the usual rate. They are eligible because their net family income is less than $30,000 and they’ve lived here for more than three months.
The society credits the generosity of a group of dentists, dental assistants and hygienists for making it all possible. One of them is Osepchook, who offers his dental office facility for clinics on days when his official business is closed. Working together with five other dentists from Nelson and Castlegar, Osepchook provides several clinics each month.
This year there are 38 clinic days planned, mostly on Saturdays, responding to the needs of over 300 patients from Creston to Beaverdale and up the valleys to Kaslo and Nakusp. They’ve been identified by intake volunteers working in Nelson, Trail and Nakusp, soon to be joined by others in Castlegar and Salmo.
There are up to 25 new families being registered each month and the waiting list for that first appointment can be long. As well, many of these families have waited a long time to get any dental work done and often require multiple treatments.
“The clinics are booked six-to-eight months in advance,” said Osepchook, “which is a real problem because some people, when they finally come to see you they’re already in a chronic debilitated state with acute pain and so to say to them, well, we’ll see you in eight months, it’s very tricky.”
While there are other similar dental clinics around B.C., the West Kootenays has taken a creative and unique stride forward by developing an Adopt-a-Patient Program.
Six dentist offices across the region – in Midway, Trail, Castlegar, Nakusp and Nelson – have now agreed to accept a number of eligible Teeth Clinic patients as part of their regular practice, to get the same dental care as all of their patients, but at the reduced 60 per cent cost.
Vitally, then, patients in these areas no longer have to spend the time and expense to travel all the way to Nelson for the clinics. Their wait-time is decreased and necessary follow-up appointments can be made more easily, especially important when something like crown work is required.
To society board member Barry Nelson, the adopt-a-patient program has huge possibilities as the Teeth Clinics’ patient list grows.
“There are 30 or so dentist offices in the region,” said Nelson, “and if every one of them could adopt three of our identified and eligible patients a year, the need would be matched by the service. It would make a major difference.”
Those interested in getting involved in the society’s work can call 250-352-6560.