Pediatric dentistry clinics in Harbour View Elementary and Nelson Whynder Elementary schools are being hailed as win-win arrangements for both the communities they serve and the Dalhousie University School of Dentistry, which provides students to staff them under the guidance of dentists and hygienists.
Set up in the early 1990s after a short time when a mobile clinic served several schools, the clinics have grown over the years. The facility in the basement of Harbour View school has six operational chairs and an X-ray room. Nelson Whynder has two clinic rooms, an office and a waiting area.
Registered dental hygienist Susan Walker is clinical instructor at Harbour View in north Dartmouth.
“At any one time we have six dental hygiene students and anywhere from three to six elementary students, depending on what procedure is being done,” Walker said.
“The dental students also occupy the same space and, again, they can have a varying number of students.”
The clinic also serves elementary schools in the surrounding area, including John MacNeil Elementary, Bicentennial School and Shannon Park Elementary, she said.
“It’s a great opportunity for the Dalhousie students to learn about access to care. Access to care is very important. And in this school, that’s one of the great benefits, that we have access to care. The students are upstairs, they come down in the morning, they get their treatment, and they go back to class.”
The patients range in age from four to 15. It’s not unusual to treat children through all the years of their attendance.
“That’s one of the great lessons about this clinic is there’s time . . . to build a rapport, to find out what the needs of the students are, to address those needs and encourage them toward good oral hygiene,” Walker said.
“So from my perspective, one of the greatest services that we can provide is to enable the children with the knowledge and skills to take care of their oral health themselves, so that they won’t need restorative dental care.”
Boyd Roul, 26, is a Dalhousie dental hygiene student originally from Lawn, N.L., on the south coast of the Burin Peninsula.
“This is my second rotation, now, out at this clinic,” Roul said Friday while waiting for one of his eager, young patients to hop into a chair for a cleaning.
“(It’s) good experience. We don’t get a whole lot of exposure with children, working with Dalhousie at the clinic located in Halifax, so this is good exposure for us to
deal with children before we get out practising in real life.
“I love it. It’s awesome working with the children.”
Megan O’Connell, 10, said she’s been coming to the clinic since she started the Early Learning Opportunity program.
“And that’s the lowest grade that you can come here,” she said. “And I’m in Grade 5 now so I think that’s a lot.
“I kind of think it’s nice to have them here when they’re doing stuff for our teeth.”
Her friend, Ari Oba, also 10 and in Grade 5, said it’s fun to come to the clinic. He’s learning a lot.
“I learn that if you don’t keep your teeth cleaned, bad things will happen to you, not just your teeth, your entire body,” he said while Roul prepared to help him floss.
“We learn how to keep them clean, how to floss, how to brush, all that stuff.”
In North Preston, Juliette Thomas, a dental assistant and clinic co-ordinator at Nelson Whydner, said they start seeing children as soon as their first tooth comes in or their first birthday. The clinic also services kids in the wider community.
“The community itself is a very unique community, (a) close-knit community,” Thomas said.
“It’s working out well. The families love it. About 80 per cent or more have their kids come here. . . . They love it. I love seeing them.”
Thomas has been with the clinic for 21 of the 22 years it’s been operating.
“I think it’s the best job ever,” she said. “Now I’m seeing kids that I saw from 20-some years (ago) having kids of their own. So they’re coming in with their kids.
“It’s very convenient for the parents because the parents can go to work, do their day’s activity and not have to worry. The kids are in the school, we can get the kids, bring them down for their checkup, they don’t have to worry about taking time off unless there’s something a little more urgent that they have to be here for.”
Kim LeBlanc, principal at Harbour View, said that in the four years she’s been there she’s seen a “really nice relationship” build between the children and the clinic students and staff.
“It is a very positive partnership that we have built over the years,” she said.
“The kids, when they’re ready to go for dentalwork, they know that they’ll take the time to talkwith them, put them at ease, play with them alittle bit. They always end up leaving with anice little toy. And the parents have given mepositive feedback, too. They really like thatduring the procedures or cleanings or what
have you, that having that hygienist around where the students are doing their work, they’re confident that things will be done correctly and that they’ll take the time, if a child needs that extra little bit of time, they take the time that they need to put them at ease during the procedures.”
LeBlanc said the dental students also take a role in the school beyond the clinic, coming to work with the kids during Dental Health Month in April.
“They do an education piece, too, around the importance of your own dental health care and I think that’s really the big win here, is that our children and our school are becoming very autonomous and being advocates for their own health. This gives them that chance to do that, it’s not just Mom and Dad telling them they have to do that, they’re doing it for themselves.”
Dr. Ben Davis, dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Dentistry, said the clinic sees, on average, about 22 patients a week.
“It’s staffed by a pediatric dentist from our faculty who works at the IWK when they’re not at Harbour View or North Preston, and then we support the clinic by, again, the salary line for the dental assistant, as well as the dentist.
“It really has been, I think, a win-win for both the community and the people that are served by these clinics but also our students. What we really like to see is that our students realize that this is just normal for them to be giving back. They’re very fortunate, often, to be able to actually have a hygiene or dentistry education so we want to make sure that when they are out there and they have the capacity that they are able to give back. And this just kind of shows them at a very early stage in their career the importance of doing that.”