Ottawa's signing dentist has deaf patients smiling

Deaf and partly deaf people in Ottawa now have a rare chance to skip the interpreter when they visit Dr. Shelly Stack's office. 

Dr. Shelly Stack spent 20 years as ASL interpreter before turning to dentistry

Dr. Shelly Stack spent 20 years as an ASL interpreter and is now using that skill in her dental practice. 0:47

Deaf and partly deaf people in Ottawa can now skip the interpreter at one dentist's office. 

Dr. Shelly Stack had been working as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for 20 years in the United States when she decided to pursue a career in dentistry.

"It was a very big switch," Stack said.

"Giving up the interpreting was the harder part because it wasn't that I didn't want to be an interpreter anymore, I just wanted to be a dentist. So that was difficult to give that up," Stack said. 

Now, she's one of only two dentists in Ontario who are known to sign in ASL.

Dr. Shelly Stack has been gaining popularity among Ottawa's deaf community. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Better communication, healthier teeth 

There are about half a million deaf or partly deaf people in Ontario. Some go to the dentist without the aid of an interpreter. 

Coming here and having a dentist who signs is a big difference.- Monique  Dozois

While the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires dentists to provide an interpreter upon request, compliance and enforcement are often a problem.

Monique Dozois, an Ottawa woman who was born profoundly deaf, said through an interpreter that growing up, she never had the benefit of someone signing for her when she visited the dentist.

Dozois said when she got her wisdom teeth removed in Toronto, she communicated with her dentist by writing on a piece of paper and passing it back and forth. 

Monique Dozois shows the gesture she uses for "floss," since there are no official ASL signs for many dental terms. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

It wasn't ideal.

"I think it's a big problem not knowing exactly what's happening," Dozois said. "The educational value is wonderful and I think it would have decreased all the problems."

Now, with Stack as her dentist, she's able to speak for herself — though ASL doesn't have official signs for many dental terms, so she and her dentist create their own.

"Coming here and having a dentist who signs is a big difference. It's one-on-one, straight conversation. So now Dr. Stack is a value to our community." 

With files from Hallie Cotnam


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