Not-for-profit Vernon dental clinic sees large increase in patients unable to pay

Staff at the Community Dental Access Centre in Vernon.
Image Credit: Community Dental Access Centre

While nobody looks forward to a trip to the dentist for those visiting Vernon's not-for-profit dental clinic the trips are at least financially pain-free.

Founded in 2012, the Community Dental Access Centre offers people from the North Okanagan low cost and free dental care, filling a much-needed void for those on a low income, who largely do not have dental care coverage from work.

Board member Robyn Rossworn said people without access to a dentist can end up in difficult situations.

"They live with chronic tooth pain, sometimes they go to emergency, they live on antibiotics to try and control the pain, they lose their teeth," Rossworn said. "It really should be part of our health care system and it isn't."

The clinic saw an almost 30 per cent increase in visits in 2019, with the dentists performing $820,000 worth of treatment in 3,280 separate visits. Using the B.C. dental fee guide as a base rate, the clinic charges 35 to 55 per cent less than the provincial prices. Its patients include everyone from children and seniors to those struggling to make ends meet, and the homeless.

Clients need to earn less than $35,000 a year and complete a financial statement which is then used to decide the rate they pay. While the B.C. dental fee guide lists a surgical extraction at $242, a patient at the clinic with a full discount would pay $108.

The clinic opens 40 hours a week and has three part-time dentists along with a surgeon who works one day every few months. As a not-for-profit organization, the clinic runs solely on government grants, private donations and fundraising.

Rossworn said the clinic is also seeing an increase in those with no ability to pay. Between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019, the clinic performed more than $400,000 worth of treatment at no cost, almost $100,000 more than in the same time period the year before.

"(We're) reaching out to the community more and more and I think the number of people in need is probably going up," she said.

Clinic manager Linda Lutz said because the majority of people employed in lower-paying jobs do not have extended benefits through work, people end up at the emergency department seeking treatment, costing the health care system. Lutz points out it's cheaper for the government to fund the dentist clinic than have people end up in the emergency department.

They're hoping this year's fundraising concert and silent auction will help with donations. On Feb. 28, Kinda Kenny, a Kenny Rogers Tribute Show, will take to the stage at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre at the clinic's fundraiser and silent auction. Having performed for audiences including Oprah and the Jay Leno Show, Marty Edwards' tribute to the country's music singer has taken him around the world dubbing him the number one Kenny Rogers tribute artist.

The event is Feb. 28. Tickets cost $30. For more information and to buy tickets go here.

The Community Dental Access Centre is located at 3107C, 31 Ave, Vernon, V1T 2G9. For more information go here.

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