everyone deserves home

Victoria clinic bridging gaps in dental care for patients in need

February 13, 2024

There are few things in the human experience as impactful as a smile. On one level, it can be a conduit to our soul – our foremost expression to the world around us. On a practical, everyday level, it can lead to conversation, work opportunities, love or to simply radiate positivity. For many in the Capital Region however, that smile isn’t there largely for reasons beyond their control. And the Victoria Cool Aid Society is in the midst of helping with that.

Running now through Feb. 29, the society’s Everyone Deserves to Smile campaign aims to raise $50,000 to provide all types of dental care and treatment to thousands of Capital Region residents who couldn’t afford that life-affirming care otherwise.

“Because dental care isn’t currently covered under healthcare, a lot of people don’t have access to it and it impacts so many facets of their lives: intimate relationships, self-confidence or working,” explains Kathleen Quast, the society’s dental clinic manager. “It can be such a limiting factor for people trying to live their best lives.” Quast adds that while the recently-announced federal dental plan will make a difference for many of the clinic’s patients, it will be several years before all eligible adults can apply and most of Cool Aid’s patients will still seek the kind of barrier-free and trauma-informed care that the clinic provides.

Cool Aid’s dental clinic sees more than 5,000 patients each year, helping those considered low-income, others funded by government dental plans, and refugees and newcomers to Canada.

The Persons with Disabilities (PWD) program, administered by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, offers income assistance to eligible individuals. Many patients at Cool Aid rely on this government insurance. However, incremental adjustments to the ministry’s fee schedule over time have not adequately matched the evolving needs and operational costs of Cool Aid’s services. Currently, the ministry’s fee schedule reimburses Cool Aid at a rate 40-60% lower than that provided by the BC Dental Association’s fee guide for dentists serving the general population. This fundraiser aims to secure funding to bridge the gap between these reimbursement rates.

For those paying out-of-pocket, the society offers a 20 per cent reduction on the BC Dental Association fee guide. If people still cannot afford the reduced cost, Cool Aid uses funding, when available, from its dental bursary. More than 330 people have been helped by the dental bursary since 2022: single mothers, refugees, students, an alarming increase in the number of seniors, and others who simply can’t afford dental care.

“Housing, groceries, gas and everything else is so expensive right now,” Quast says. “For most people who don’t have insurance, dental care isn’t always at the top of their priority list until it needs to be.”

Cool Aid’s dental team consists of two registered dental hygienists, four certified dental assistants, five dentists, a denturist and three admin staff who help oversee virtually any type of dental care: fillings, diagnostics and X-ray exams, hygiene services, root canals, extractions and dentures.

“We’ve seen people walk in in severe pain or with a large facial swelling from an abscess that’s been left untreated,” Quast says. “The reality for someone who is left untreated over the longer term is that they can die.”

Because of the stigma they face, many Cool Aid clients aren’t comfortable accessing traditional health and dental care. “There’s no judgment here and patients relax right away when they hear that,” Quast says. “The gratitude that our clients have towards us is amazing.”

To learn more about the fundraiser and the program, visit coolaid.org/everyone-deserves-to-smile.