Tooth Fairy Program overwhelmed by Moncton need for dental care

Suzanne Drapeau-McNally says Moncton's Tooth Fairy Program is overwhelmed by people in need of affordable dental care.

Dentist Suzanne Drapeau-McNally recruits local dentists to help adults who can't afford care

Suzanne Drapeau-McNally works on a patient at her dental clinic in Moncton. She started the Tooth Fairy Program in 2011 after being approached by different groups trying to help people with low-incomes get dental work. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Dentist Suzanne Drapeau-McNally says Moncton's Tooth Fairy Program is overwhelmed by people in need of affordable dental care.

Drapeau-McNally started the program in 2011 for children whose families could not afford a trip to the dentist.

There's many times that you'll see people that come in, they're in pain.- Helen Bourgeous, volunteer

When the New Brunswick's Healthy Smiles Clear Vision came in the next year, offering free dental care to low-income families, the dentist shifted her focus to adults with oral problems they could not afford to fix.

"They are people that are working but they don't have dental coverage and they are having a hard time making ends meet."

Drapeau-McNally taps into Moncton's entire dental community, including dentists, denturists, oral surgeons, even medical suppliers to help treat people in need of care they can't afford.

Suzanne Drapeau-McNally is a Moncton dentist who started the Tooth Fairy Program, which calls on 27 dentists during the year to help people with significant dental problems. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)
"Now we are about 27 dentists that will answer [the] call."

She said the program helps between 25 to 30 people a year, up from 12 patients the first year. Dental bills can reach into the thousands, so Drapeau-McNally tries to ask each dentist only once a year for help, she said  

"I don't want for them to be burned out by my asking."

Helen Bourgeois is the volunteer in charge of applications for the program. It's administered by Moncton Headstart, where Bourgeois spends each Wednesday answering phones and helping people fill out applications.

"There's many times that you'll see people that come in, they're in pain," said Bourgeois.

"There is a process they have to go through unfortunately, and it does take time."

Helen Bourgeois, a volunteer with the Tooth Fairy Program for three years, is the first point of contact for people hoping to get help with their teeth.
Potential patients fill out an application and, if they qualify, are sent to the Oulton dental college for assessment and cleaning. From there, the patients' files are sent to Drapeau-McNally's office, where a dentist will be found to do the work.

"No one who has qualified has ever been turned away," said Bouregois.

The program isn't completely free to use. Drapeau-McNally said some donations come in from the public, and local dentists will donate money and hold fundraisers, but patients are expected to contribute something.

'Teeth are important, you know, for your self-respect, for chewing, for eating."- Suzanne Drapeau-McNally, dentist

"One time we had a man, he had about four kids ... he brought in his piggy bank. He broke it and we said perfect, that's perfect, everything and anything. 

"If they qualify with Moncton Headstart, we kick in to try to help them."

Drapeau-McNally said that after six years, the program is running smoothly but there isn't room to expand.

She hopes the tooth fairy program can continue to meet the city's demand. She's also hopeful Moncton will reinstate the fluoridation of water, since it helps the city's most vulnerable people to stay healthy."

"Some people have difficulty imagining that there is no toothpaste in the house, or no tooth brush. It is happening." 

"Teeth are important, you know, for your self-respect, for chewing, for eating."