'Nanaimo desperately needs this:' client base surges at non-profit dental clinic

By Ian Holmes
March 11, 2018 - 1:27pm Updated: March 11, 2018 - 4:28pm

Dr. Robert Gillam and assistant Emily Jones serve a client at CODE Community Dental Clinic on Wallace St. recently.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — A non-profit service offering low-cost dental care to people in Nanaimo has seen an explosion of new clients.

CODE Community Dental Clinic, operated by the Nanaimo Region John Howard Society, reported 785 new clients in the last year and serves upwards of 2,000 overall. Local John Howard Society executive director John McCormick said it started as a volunteer run clinic open a few times a month and has grown to far more expansive coverage of four days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Nanaimo desperately needs this," McCormick told NanaimoNewsNOW. "Something like 30 to 40 per cent of the community can't afford to go to a dentist. Across the country six-to-eight million people haven't been to a dentist in the past year.”

McCormick said emergency pain relief is a core service offered at the Wallace St. clinic. He noted a range of services in addition to acute dental care are provided, like root canals and pediatric dentistry. He said the service goes by a pay-what-you-can model.

“We are not turning anyone away,” McCormick said. “The people that come here are new grads to people that are really street entrenched, it's a full range.”

McCormick said some people who rely on CODE have full-time jobs, but lack the coverage to absorb what can be expensive dental work.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh toured the clinic during a recent visit to Vancouver Island. He said dental care is an integral part of overall health and should be treated as such by the federal government.

“Why is it that certain parts of our body have been left out of the universal health model? Why is that our teeth and our eyes are not covered?” Singh asked reporters following the tour.

Island Health is the primary financial backer of CODE, home to one full-time and two part-time dentists.

McCormick said the program operates on about $250,000 a year.


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