Vital People: Society aims to improve dental care for all

The Garth Homer Society is working to improve access to dental services for its vulnerable clientele of adults with developmental disabilities.

The people Garth Homer serves and others can be limited in their ability to get dental treatment, said chief executive Mitchell Temkin.

“If you think about it, people with dementia, people with mental-health issues and anxiety, or people with all kinds of behavioural issues — accessibility to regular oral care is actually difficult for many individuals,” he said. “In the case of individuals with developmental disabilities, many of them end up not getting proper oral care for one reason or another.

“Or when they do get it, they get oral care delivered in a hospital operating room.”

That is a very expensive option, Temkin said.

Funding from the Victoria Foundation and the Green Shield Initiative is in place for design work on a community-based dental clinic in a new Garth Homer facility planned by the society in Nigel Valley — a Saanich site that is also set to include space for such organizations as B.C. Housing, Island Community Mental Health and the Broadmead Care Society.

“The idea is it would be a clinic for everybody, not just for our clients,” Temkin said.

Garth Homer currently has a clientele of about 200 at its Darwin Road location and is need of more room. The idea of planning for a dental clinic in the new building grew out of discussions with Island Health.

Temkin said research was done into similar clinics that had been established in other cities like Toronto and Seattle.

“We started digging into to it to see if we could do it.”

Garth Homer proposed to the Victoria Foundation that it start the technical and architectural research for a community-based dental clinic.

“The key challenge in these sorts of operations is the business model, finding a sustainable business model — given the business model of dentistry — that allows the clinic to be sustainable,” Temkin said. “It’s pretty difficult when people may not have coverage and certainly can’t afford to pay.”

He said it is also a boost to be able to design a clinic ahead of time instead of retrofitting it into an existing space.

One thing that has been decided in the process of looking at a clinic is to not offer general anesthesia, Temkin said.

“We should take on a relatively high level of sedation, if necessary,” he said. “We decided we would get the best bang for the buck and we would really be able to still deliver services to our maximum capacity by not going the general anesthesia route, but focusing on desensitization and helping people manage anxiety.”

There have been other aspects to the Garth Homer dental program in the works, including a proposed arrangement with Camosun College. It would have seen dental-hygiene students working with clients and was set to get going last winter “but, of course, then along came COVID,” Temkin said.

“The idea was both to get their students used to working with people with developmental disabilities and to having our clients get used to somebody actually giving them an oral examination and working in their mouth, and reducing their anxiety around that.”

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