A public health dental clinic opened in Red Deer is growing in demand.
The clinic, which opened in June, has seen almost 150 patients.
Many of them struggle with addictions and mental health, said Dr. Heidi Rabie, the chief of public health dental clinics in Alberta and the medical lead.
Treating dental problems can help people avoid sinking deeper into addictions, she said.
When a person feels severe dental pain, Rabie said, they might be inclined to seek medication on the street, “with disastrous outcomes.”
The clinic collaborates with hospitals, community services, mental health and addictions services, and shelters, which refer patients to the clinic, Rabie said.
Uninsured individuals, she said, can have high needs because their access to dental care is limited.
Due to financial constraints, they tend to delay treatment, even if they are experiencing pain or have infections, she said.
“We tend to see a population that is fairly high needs, and we are providing a very basic care,” she said.
The clinic has performed some 300 extractions and 300 fillings since its opening — on average, two extractions and two fillings per patient, Rabie said.
She points out that the clinic is aimed at preventative treatment.
“That two fillings is a prevention of the next two extractions,” Rabie said.
Dental care can be really important in a person’s journey to recovery from addictions, she said.
She recalled one man in particular, whose first request after completing rehab was to get his teeth fixed.
“He wanted to be free of pain and for his mouth to look and feel good,” she said, so that he could get back to searching for work.
The staff at the clinic are trained to work with people suffering from addictions and mental health issues, she said. AHS provides its staff with opportunities to learn about de-escalation and conflict in the workplace, Rabie said.
The clinic exists as a result of a partnership between AHS, GreenShield and Red Deer Street Connect.
GreenShield is a health and benefits not for profit. GreenShield will contribute $1.5 million to the clinic over five years.
This funding is used to staff the clinic, said Zahid Salman, GreenShield’s president and CEO.
Salman expects the preventative dental services offered by the clinic to alleviate the pressure on the regional hospital, and on the public health system as a whole.
“The hospital was seeing many people go to the emergency room in need of dental care,” he said.
GreenShield saw a win-win scenario in helping establish a dental clinic, easing the stress on the hospital’s emergency room, and serving the patients.
The health system will benefit, Salman said, as less money would be spent on complex oral health treatments because the issues would be addressed at an earlier stage.
“We would also see cost savings from less people having you visit emergency rooms,” he said.
The clinic is currently open three days a week, which Rabie wants to increase to four.
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