Culturally safe dentistry coming to London

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) have formed a new partnership to provide "culturally safe" dental care.

A new clinic offering culturally safe dental treatments for indigenous people is opening at the health unit.

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) are partnering in a new London dental project. (CBC)

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) have formed a new partnership to provide "culturally safe" dental care. What does that mean? It means trying to break down barriers to dental care that have existed for decades.

"If you go back in history, there were the Indian agents, there were dentists going on reserve basically pulling teeth," said Brian Dokis, CEO at SOAHAC. "There wasn't prevention  being done. There wasn't repairs being done. It was a minimal service."

That, combined with the fact that dental care is offered by strangers in an institutional setting and is a fee for service model creates many barriers to accessing treatment, said Dokis.

The opportunity to open a clinic that will be run by an indigenous organization is completely aligned with what the SOAHAC board of directors was hoping to achieve in its last strategic plan, according to Dokis. The offer of a partnership with the MLHU was more than welcome. 

"(MLHU) knew that we were considering opening up a dental clinic but we were struggling with raising the capital,"  said Dokis.

A perfect fit

The health unit recently decided to change its dental programming, focusing more on prevention than treatment. With that, Dr. Chris Mackie, London's Medical Officer of Health, approached Dokis with the idea of opening a culturally safe clinic at the health unit. 

"Having SOAHAC be the face of this clinic is really important," said Mackie. With more than 30,000 people with some degree of indigenous ancestry living in the city or on nearby reserves, this is a 'perfect fit'. 

"They've got the relationships, they've got the trust of the community. They can put the word out about this sort of clinic and really get people out." Mackie said. 

Dokis also called the partnership a perfect fit for SOAHAC and its vision to offer a safe environment for dental care. 

"You'll know you're in an indigenous organization. You know you're going to be treated with respect. There won't be any marginalization," he said.

The first clinic will be held Tuesday at the MLHU at 50 King St.