Seniors get a mouthful of care
Retirement can bring an end to workplace benefits and the start of a fixed income. So for many seniors, dental work takes a back seat to basic needs.
But volunteers recently gave 25 local seniors a reason to smile. Dental care professionals cleaned teeth, filled cavities and repaired dentures at a free one-day dental clinic set up at Richmond Hospital.
“For one lady we looked after, she hadn’t been to a dentist in almost 20 years,” said Dr. Doug Nielsen. “We got to do all the procedures that she needed in that one day, and bring her back to a current standard of health she hadn’t been able to enjoy in almost 20 years.”
The clinic was made possible by Nielsen—a 40-year Steveston dentist—and his wife Susan, who were instrumental in founding the Dental Mission Project Society, which helps provide dental assistance to marginalized populations around the world and in B.C.
Volunteers began setting up the Feb. 23 clinic in the Richmond Hospital rotunda at 8 a.m. and worked through the day until all patients were treated. Providing treatment were University of B.C. dentistry students, overseen by dentists volunteering their time. Richmond denturist Alex Hupka also stepped forward to help, along with volunteers form Vancouver Coastal Health and Volunteer Richmond.
Belinda Boyd, who helped organize the clinic, said many seniors are in need of dental care but can’t easily get it.
“To have the community come together in such an effective way—bringing resources, professionals, students and those with need for dental care together in one place on one day was an act of caring that made a real difference in people’s lives,” said Boyd, leader of community engagement for Vancouver Coastal Health Richmond.
Dr. Nielsen said the clinic not only offered care to seniors who otherwise couldn’t afford it, but gave students invaluable experience.
“They get out of the academic arena of university and get into the real world in dealing with people who really need the work. In some cases some of the procedures they wouldn’t have seen or been able to do at the university,” said Nielsen, who is also part-time faculty at UBC.
Nielsen said many people in the profession want to give back—both locally and internationally—and the Dental Mission Project Society provides that chance with nine portable chairs and equipment that can be transported to sites around the world. Nielsen himself has provided complimentary care to people as far away as Central America, along with helping those close to his Richmond home.
Founded in 2005, the society’s equipment recently went to the Philippines and India, and in April it will be in Cambodia—used by a large contingent of local volunteer dentists who will be joined by UBC students. Another trip is planned to aid First Nations people in Williams Lake. Seven trips are planned this year alone.
Nielsen said he was particularly proud of the Richmond clinic, given that it took place in the community where the Richmond High grad and longtime girls’ softball coach has lived almost all his life.
“I’m just very proud to be a dentist. Dentistry changed my life for the better,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to say thank you and pay it forward and give back to not just Richmond residents, but the people in East Vancouver or facilitating other trips around the world with equipment and supplies.”
He describes the Dental Mission Project Society as a team, where everyone involved is proud to have a chance to give back. Nielsen, a member of Steveston Rotary Club, said his volunteer work fits with the club’s motto: “Service above self.”
“I really believe that. It’s part of who I am.”