Alberta children suffering because dental care is out of reach

CALGARY – It’s being called a huge problem that’s causing hundreds of Alberta children to suffer in pain.

Dental care is out of reach for many families who can’t afford it, so there’s a pilot project in Calgary that’s reaching out to the city’s most vulnerable.

This weekend, SAIT teamed up with the Alex Community Health Centre to offer free dental care.

Dental care is a luxury for Amal Hamzeh and her family.

She works at restaurant her husband is self employed. They don’t qualify for government assistance.

“When the child has pain, we have to go,” Hamzeh said.

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For many children in Alberta,  dental pain is a sad reality because parents can’t afford trips to the dentist.

“So the child suffers, the child stays in pain and they say ‘we are just going to wait until the tooth falls out’,”Denise Kokaram from the Alex Community Health Centre said.

“That could be years down the road that child lives with that infection and that pain,”

“It’s really sad to hear what they have to say. A lot of them say I don’t have a toothbrush at home or we asked them about their parents. ‘Did your parents teach you how to floss?’, and they say ‘what’s floss?” Attalia Fikre, a dental assistant at SAIT said.

A team of 30 SAIT staff, dental assisting students, dentists and hygienists are all volunteering their time.

“It’s heartbreaking to see that there’s children who are living in our backyards and in Calgary a wealthy booming city and yet there’s these issues that are going on. The pain they’re experiencing,” Fikre said.

The Alex Community Health Centre provided preventative services to 1200 Calgary children in need last year.

54 percent had tooth decay, some requiring extractions of adult teeth.

“Looking at the degree of decay we are seeing, it’s huge. Many of these children are requiring multiple appointments. It’s not just one filling or one appointment. We are seeing infections, abscesses, extractions and huge decay. Some children have to see the endodontist to have a root canal done, so the degree of decay is quite serious.  At a 54 percent decay rate, that’s quite high,” Kokaram said.

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While some disadvantaged families qualify for government coverage, many others do not.

“There is nowhere for them to really go. There are certain areas like the Alberta Health Services clinics,  but there are criteria involved with that that many of these patients that we see don’t qualify for,” Kokaram said.

A free clinic like this comes as a huge relief to families facing dental bills as high as rent payments.

“It’s a big break for us. We save lots of money they can go to soccer practice or something with that money,” Zerihun Angaro said. He brought his sons to the dental clinic for a checkup Sunday.

SAIT and the Alex Community Health Centre will offer another clinic next month, but the future of the pilot project is dependent on donations.

Patients attending the Smiles Dental Clinics at SAIT are referred after visiting the Alex Dental Health Bus, which travels to high-needs schools across the city providing preventative dental care to kids whose families can’t afford private care.


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