Dental clinic's closure sending homeless patients to ER
Shuttered since March, Ottawa Mission clinic hopes to reopen within a month
The temporary closure of a dental clinic serving homeless people in downtown Ottawa has been heartbreaking but unavoidable, says its director.
The clinic, located at the Ottawa Mission shelter on Daly Avenue, has offered free access to a variety of dental services including cleaning, extractions and denture fittings since 2007, but has had to close its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have a very vulnerable population that is in need of treatment," said Lynn Landis, director of health services at the Ottawa Mission.
Almost daily people come in, they're in pain and request help, and we have to refer them to emergency dental services.- Lynn Landis, Ottawa Mission
Dentists volunteer at the clinic, which has one hygienist on staff.
"I can't tell you how many people have come here in tears and in pain and have been through so much," said Landis. "Then they leave with huge smiles. It just changes their self-confidence."
Landis said as a result, the Mission has had to send clients to local hospitals for emergency dental care.
"Almost daily people come in, they're in pain and request help, and we have to refer them to emergency dental services," she said. "The emergency services have been great, but they're sometimes difficult for our clients to get to."
Transportation to hospital isn't the only concern, said Landis.
"For us, it's really about knowing our clients and meeting them where they're at," she said. "We understand more about addictions and mental health."
Landis said the Mission's dental clinic is now properly equipped to serve clients during COVID-19, but the clinical staff who normally volunteer there are currently too busy with their own private practices. She said she's hopeful those staffing challenges can be resolved within the coming month.
Private dental practices in Ontario are accepting appointments from patients who lack private dental insurance, said Dr. David Stevenson, past president of the Ontario Dental Association and current chair of the association's pandemic recovery working group.
"When we ask our member dentists, the vast majority of them still continue to treat patients on government-funded programs," said Stevenson. "This is a responsibility that, quite frankly, dentists have lived up to."
Despite a backlog of patients at his own practice in Carleton Place, Ont., Stevenson said he has continued to provide services during the pandemic to clients on programs such as Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.
"I don't care if they are privately funded patients or publicly funded patients, they're all my neighbours," he said.
"When you need to see a dentist, you need to see a dentist," Stevenson said. "What we really don't want is patients that need to see a dentist going to the hospital emergency rooms. They're busy enough as it is."