Nfld. & Labrador

It's all smiles at the Gathering Place as free dental clinic has successful start

Some of the patients hadn't be able to see a dentist in 25 years.

Some patients haven't been able to see a dentist in 25 years

Linda Blakey (far left) and Stewart Gillies (centre) are among the dentists who helped set up the clinic at the Gathering Place in St. John's. (Linda Blakey/Submitted)

A free dental clinic serving some of the most marginalized people in St. John's has gotten off to a successful start, and two months after opening, is already booked up well into March.

"There's always guests coming in when you're working down there," said Linda Blakey, one of the dentists practicing at the Gathering Place's clinic.

"It's really kind of neat — 'can we see the dentist, can we see the dentist?' And we have to put them on a wait list at this point."

The outreach organization's clinic offers its clients access to dental care they otherwise likely wouldn't have, as they face a range of problems such as addictions, chronic pain, and poverty. Blakey said the clinic lets them get the treatment they need, in a place where they feel safe. 

"They feel at home at the Gathering Place," Blakey said, during an interview with CBC Radio's The St. John's Morning Show. 

"It's their space, so they don't seem to be as nervous as they might be if they came into my own clinic, or someone else's."

The Gathering Place has two dentists' chairs available to help treat marginalized people in St. John's. (Daniel MacEachern/CBC)

Getting patients out of pain

In 2018, the Gathering Place renovated its used clothing boutique, turning it into a two-chair dentist's office.

Blakey has put in four days at that clinic so far, including the first day it opened in early December.

The work includes fillings, extractions, some root canals — treatments that often relieve patients' pain.

"I see people who haven't been to the dentist in 25 years," said Blakey.

Dentists donate their time, and while they do get some fees from MCP for emergency dental care, that money goes to pay for supplies to keep the clinic running.

I see people who haven't been to the dentist in 25 years.- Linda Blakey

Currently, there are about 18 dentists and 10 to 12 hygienists working on a rotation basis, but organizers are hoping to get more people involved.

Stewart Gillies chairs the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association's dentistry outreach committee, the group who set up the clinic, and said everyone who works at the clinic is happy to be giving back to their community.

"When you see the delight in the patients that you've served, then hey, it works all the way around," he said.

"Everybody feels good."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show