SUDBURY -- Thanks to a generous donation, the Sudbury District Nurse Practitioner Clinics office on Larch Street is one step closer to opening a free dental clinic.

Executive director Jennifer Clement said the clinic will be for those who don't have health insurance or transportation. With the office now located right downtown it will be more accessible for people who need the service.

"When we got the funding for opening our Larch Street office here, we were lucky enough to receive a donation of dental equipment from Centre de Santé, who had a dental room at the corner clinic," said Clement.

"The intention was also that when we moved over here, we would have a dental room, as well, and the room is being used by dental students who will offer assessments and screenings to those who don't have access to dental services."

On top of providing free oral health care to those in need, it will also help dental hygiene and dental assistant students from Cambrian College. The idea is that students will work in the clinic as part of their curriculum.

"One of the things we try to do with all of our programs -- but especially those helping professions like dental hygiene and dental assisting -- is we don't just want them to be good professionals, we want them to be good citizens," said Dan Lessard, manager of communications at Cambrian College.

Good citizens

"A big part of that is actually working in those settings, helping out while also getting an education. You know that you're doing good in the community, so the students benefit both ways. And I think they're really excited to be part of something new."

This week, the clinic received more than $18,000 from Cambrian College's annual Walk for a Smile fundraiser. Lessard said despite the COVID-19 pandemic, that's about the average amount the fundraiser brings in each year.

"It's always a great feeling when you can help the community, especially when it's something new," said Lessard.

Officials say it is going to be a team effort to get the clinic open, with help from the health unit and the dental community in the area. However, the clinic is ready to take on the next challenge, Clement said.

"We're the first nurse practitioners clinic … to be able to do this in the province, which is great," she said. "We're working with the health unit to develop a dental strategy so we can look at what is this going to look like over the long term."

Lessard said it's an amazing feeling to be part of the opening the clinic, and it's a fantastic opportunity for students.

"They're the first ones who are going to experience this kind of setting," he said. "They're normally used to going to a dental office or a dental clinic. A nurse practitioner's office is something completely different. So for them, it's just going to give them that broad range of experience that's only going to make them more skillful and marketable when they go out in the field."

Important part of overall health

The clinic will offer dental cleaning with the students from Cambrian, and hopefully X-rays and other procedures later on.

"Dental care is a very important part of overall health care and there's some people in the community who, through circumstances, it's a little harder for them to maintain good dental care," said Lessard.

" So what we've done as a program, dental assisting and dental hygienists, is raise money for community initiatives so that people don't have costs as a barrier for getting good dental care."

An opening date for the dental room is still to be determined, but Clement said it is a priority at the clinic.

"If people don't have health benefits, they can be reluctant to get dental care, and oral health is really important to your overall health and well-being in total," said Clement. "So by doing this, by bringing in students and looking at if we're going to use money to offer per diems for dentists to come in - we're not quite sure yet, but it's something we think is really important to the community."