The Nova Scotia Dental Association recommends bi-annual visits to the dentist but for many, cost can be a barrier.
And in some cases, it can mean years between visits.
“For me, there were other things I needed a bit more at the time,” said Shawn Heard.
“It wasn’t at the top of my list, but it would have been on the list if I could afford it.”
Sierra Barnett, a community mental health nurse who works with Phoenix Youth Programs, says that Heard’s story is not unique to youth at Phoenix.
“Some of them have not had the opportunity to go to the dentist in a really long time,” she said.
Not having access to proper dental hygiene can take a toll on someone’s physical health, but also on their mental health.
“It’s really important for people in terms of people’s self confidence, their feelings of self worth,” said Barnett.
“If you can’t smile or feel like your teeth aren’t something you can show off to people, that can have a huge impact on your life.”
Assistant Professor with Dalhousie’s School of Dental Hygiene and Faculty of Dentistry, Heather Doucette, came up with an idea to help address the issue. She helped organize a partnership between Dalhousie and Phoenix Youth Programs, where dental hygiene students provide cleaning services to youth in need.
The partnership benefits the students as well, providing valuable real-world experience.
WATCH: Nova Scotia government expands dental coverage for kids 14 and younger
“What I hope to do is to try and create experiences for the students that open up some possibility to learn empathy and to start to understand some of the barriers to care that there are for lots of populations in our community,” said Doucette.
The program started in October. Each Tuesday, two dental students go to Phoenix Youth’s drop-in centre to do a cleaning. Already, dozens of young people have taken advantage of the program.
“They all say it was a good experience. They felt comfortable and felt welcomed,” said Barnett.
The program runs on a first-come-first-serve basis every Tuesday at the drop-in centre throughout the school year and Barnett says the collaboration has been a positive thing for the community.
“It’s so important within health care that we all work together to serve the needs of everyone, especially youth who may be marginalized. They may have more difficulty accessing services,” she said.
And for Heard, having access to a cleaning and check-up is all about peace of mind.
“It feels refreshing. Just because then I have that extra mental security. I’m like, ‘Okay so I don’t have any cavities, my teeth aren’t messed up,'” he said.
“It’s a happy feeling.”