UBC dental students provide free care in Chemainus

University students shared the gift of dental health during free clinics at the H'ulh-etun Health Society in Chemainus.

Dental students from the University of British Columbia recently provided free dental care at the H’ulh-etun Health Society in Chemainus. Here

Dental students from the University of British Columbia recently provided free dental care at the H’ulh-etun Health Society in Chemainus. Here

Students from the University of British Columbia (UBC) dental program recently shared the gift of dental health with local First Nations and community members.

For three days, the 10 dental students — dentists and hygienists ranging from second-year to fourth-year students — and their instructors held a free walk-in clinic at the H’ulh-etun Health Society in Chemainus under the Dental Mission Project.

Under the careful guidance of their mentors — dental instructors, practising dentists and hygienists — the students performed everything from minor surgical extractions to extensive restorative dentistry.

Founded by Dr. Doug Neilsen and his wife Susan, the Dental Mission Project is a non-profit society which assists dental groups in providing assistance to marginalized populations locally and around the world by supplying them with portable dental labs.

“It’s been a labour of love for myself, my wife and some of our friends,” said Neilsen. “The equipment has been around the world.”

The project is funded by friends and family, and the lab equipment is maintained by Patterson Dental.

For the students participating in a Dental Mission Project, it is a fantastic opportunity to gain real life experience in a non-university setting.

“They’ll do restorative dentistry and see more procedures done than they would in a whole term at university,” Nielsen said. “And because they have one-on-one mentoring, they can have an opportunity to do much more.”

For the past two years, the Dental Mission Project has made trips to Penelakut Island. But while on a trip to Chemainus to discuss a Rotary project focused on literacy, Nielsen, a Steveston Rotarian, got to talking with Mary Knowles, executive director of the H’ulh-etun Health Society, and a visit was scheduled. Members of Chemainus Rotary provided accommodations for the visiting students.

Fourth-year UBC dental student Akash Villing, who travelled with the program to Penelakut last year as well, said coming to Vancouver Island and learning about First Nations culture is an eye-opening experience.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Living on the mainland, you don’t really get to see firsthand what they’ve been through and the struggle that they’ve had.

“A lot of times, we feel really privileged that they’re allowing us to come into their community.”

Villing said the students not only get to improve their technical skills, but also learn how the value of something as small as a filling can mean a lot to people.

“It puts your work and your career in perspective, that you have all these opportunities to give back,” he said.