Smile! Free dentist's office being built at the Gathering Place

The Gathering Place is renovating its used clothing boutique into a two-chair dentist's office that it’s hoping to have ready by the end of October.

The organization is hoping to open the clinic by the end of October

The Gathering Place expects its dentist's office to open in late October. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The most marginalized people in St. John's will soon have access to dental care.

The Gathering Place is renovating its used clothing boutique into a two-chair dentist's office that it's hoping to have ready by the end of October.

Stewart Gillis, chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association's dentistry outreach committee, helped design the clinic.

Stewart Gillis is chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association’s dentistry outreach committee. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

As a dentist, he's seen the severity of oral infections experienced by vulnerable populations.

"[Abscesses] can be life-threatening at their worst and low-grade chronic infection at their best which just affects people's ability to get on with their lives," he said.

With the typical level of swelling, people "can't eat, they can't function, they can't smile. It's a big problem for them."

(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The soon-to-be dentist office is currently under construction with floors and ceilings torn up in preparation for a facility that will include oral X-ray machines and equipment to help outfit patients with dentures.

"We'll be able to provide oral care, complete dental services to the most marginalized individuals in society," said Gathering Place executive director Joanne Thompson.

'This site is their safe space'

The dentist's office will be upstairs from the organization's soup kitchen, where nearly 400 people are served every day.

"The point of offering services in this site is this is their safe place," said Thompson.

"We are demonstrating time and again that if you provide services in a place where people feel comfortable, respected, they will access the service."

The Gathering Place already has a medical clinic open six days a week where clients can see a doctor, nurse or social worker.

The dentist's office will be available to the poorest most desperate people as chosen by administrators. There are no age restrictions, and the Gathering Place said it will work with other local organizations that help those living in poverty.

Joanne Thompson is the executive director of the Gathering Place. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The hours and days for the dentist office haven't been determined, but once it's open, the clinic will be staffed with volunteer dentists and hygienists.

Thompson estimates the renovation costs at more than $150,000, which, she said, has been raised by the community — there's been no government grant.

"To be able to link dental service into the other levels of health care is really critical to being able to care for the whole person and that's really what we have to do at The Gathering Place."

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