A new initiative led by a group of University of Saskatchewan students aims to fill the gaps in dental care for students by providing dental care to individuals who are unable to access it due to financial barriers.
DIRECT Dental is an enterprise undertaken by four fourth-year students in the doctor of dental medicine program at the U of S: Christopher Bertsch, Kristen Kezar, Christy MacPherson and Mary Tait. The students aim to provide emergency dental-pain relief for patients who do not have the means to afford dental care and present them with an alternative to going to the emergency room.
Bertsch says the clinic was partly inspired by the Dental Day YXE event and the SHINE Youth Clinic in Edmonton. Bertsch says that he and his co-founders were intrigued by the student-run structures of these clinics and that they had observed that there was a demand for these services in the Saskatoon community.
DIRECT Dental is composed of an all-volunteer staff formed by dentistry students, local dentists, dental assistants, dental hygienists and dental therapists who provide professional services free of charge. The clinic also allows dentistry students who are approaching the end of their training to gain clinical experience.
Bertsch says that the clinic provides dentistry students with an excellent learning opportunity, especially in terms of dealing with patients.
“It’s just so much more clinical experience, and there’s also the mentorship component where you’re basically working one-on-one with a dentist and learning in a face-to-face environment,” Bertsch said. “They’re also seeing how the clinic functions, from the patient walking in to patient walking out.”
The scope of the services provided by the clinic includes fillings, extractions, root-canal therapy and cleanings, which can give patients relief from periodontal issues. The clinic also provides educational information regarding the maintenance of oral hygiene and services in the community where patients can obtain treatment and other types of help within their means.
Similar to a walk-in clinic, patients are treated on a first-come-first-serve basis, as DIRECT Dental does not require any appointments. Since it is a student-run facility that is open for a limited number of days, DIRECT Dental is not able to provide complex dental treatments.
DIRECT Dental’s first day of operations was on Oct. 20. Bertsch says that the response to the clinic has been overwhelmingly positive, both from students and the greater Saskatoon community.
“People have been emailing and asking questions. I know that … we weren’t able to see [everyone] at the clinic on Saturday due to the demand. We were able to provide them with information regarding services available at the college at reduced rates,” Bertsch said. “The volunteering has also increased. [Students] have been wanting to volunteer for shifts since they have been hearing about how much experience it can give them.”
Bertsch says that, since the current operators of the clinic are in their fourth year, he hopes that other students can carry on with DIRECT Dental in the future.
“All of the organizers are fourth-years, so hopefully, the students keep it going,” Bertsch said. “I hope it becomes something that the community can rely on.”
DIRECT Dental operates out of the College of Dentistry’s Saskatoon West Dental Clinic. lt will be open on select Saturday afternoons between October and March of the 2018-19 academic year. For more information on clinic hours and dates of operation, visit their website.
Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor