'Pro bono dental' program planned for low-income Ottawa residents

A group of Ottawa dental professionals is trying to launch a non-profit service for low-income residents who can’t afford dental insurance.

Group looking for sponsors, donations and dentists who want to take part

An Ottawa dentist working to develop a non-profit dental service for low-income residents explains the basics to the CBCs Simon Gardner. 2:14

A group of Ottawa dental professionals is trying to launch a non-profit service for low-income residents who can’t afford dental insurance.

The Pro Bono Dental program would offer dental work for those with a low income who don’t have a criminal record, drug dependencies, serious medical conditions, private insurance or government assistance.

Organizer Dr. Ben Fong said he’s trying to raise money, find sponsors and convince about 20 other dental professionals to join.

"If you have simple dental work it can be done through savings and such, but if you have extensive dental work where it costs thousands and thousands of dollars, that’s where you could fall through the cracks where it just gets worse and worse," said Dr. Fong, who also owns Ottawa’s Herongate Dental.

"Myself, I’ll be doing it all pro bono, but I think for most dentists I would consider covering their basic expenses, which (would come from) donations."

Hospitals, social services didn't fill need

Dr. Fong said Michael Clermont is a good example of a pro bono client, a seasonal worker who said he’s never been able to afford dental care and has several missing or damaged teeth.

Michael Clermont says he has no dental insurance from his seasonal job and has several missing or damaged teeth. (CBC)
"From grinding my teeth in my sleep they’ve broken off and deteriorated, I had a full set of teeth seven years ago," Clermont said.

"I’ve been to emergency rooms probably 20 times in the last seven years, they’re happy to give me painkillers but they won’t extract the problem."

He said he developed an addiction to morphine because of issues with his teeth, which he also said is now under control. But Ontario Works told him it would only cover one tooth extraction a year.

"It’s pretty frustrating. I try to downsize as much as I can, live in my boat instead of a home, I stay with friends during the winter," he said.

"The dental problems have affected my health and my ability to keep sustaining myself."

A Dental Charity Ball to raise money for the program takes place April 11 at the Canadian Museum of History.


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