Dentistry, dental hygiene students give back

A young patient awaiting treatment

Community outreach instills sense of social responsibility

By Keri Sweetman

When Alexandra Sheppard, '93 DH, was a dental hygiene student at the University of Alberta more than 20 years ago, the only external placement she did was at an Edmonton psychiatric institution and at the northern satellite clinics in High Level.

Now, as Assistant Director of Dental Hygiene Clinical Education in the School of Dentistry, Sheppard supervises students who do placements in the inner city, long-term care facilities, a rehabilitation hospital and in northern Alberta. Some of the students even travel to Central America with dental missions.

"We teach them basic dentistry and dental hygiene, but with that, we teach them how to be socially responsive," says Paul Major, Chair of the School of Dentistry. "If we can instil this, then we've done a good job, and the only way this can happen is to immerse them in the community and provide meaningful experiences.".

Karen Ho, '17 DH, says opportunities to work in the community are what make the U of A program so outstanding compared to others in the country.

Boyle McCauley Health Centre

Dental hygiene students treat patients at this inner-city centre twice a week as part of their curriculum, and as part of the new clinic expansion, dental students will join them there on regular rotations starting this academic year. They see Indigenous, new-immigrant and refugee patients, along with homeless people and those from lower-income groups.

It can be an eye-opener for the students, most of whom are in their early 20s and often from middle- class backgrounds. Although they get an orientation prior to their first visit, Sheppard says the first rotation can be daunting, especially when the clinic was in a dingy, cramped room in the basement. Thanks to the school's Dentistry for Life fundraising campaign, donor support has enabled an expansion of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre to a bigger, brighter location.

"Once you see how much the service is needed, it's a great experience," says dental hygiene graduate Ilona Kaliszuk. "People are so grateful for the care."


In addition to the weekday curriculum rotations, dental and dental hygiene students also volunteer their time at Boyle McCauley on Saturdays through a program called SHINE (Student Health Initiatives for the Needs of Edmonton). SHINE is organized by students, who find licensed dentists from the community to attend as supervisors.

The energy of the young volunteers makes visiting the SHINE clinic a positive experience for many patients. "I've always had bad experiences with dentists, but SHINE was different," says patient Monica Baker. "The students were friendly. They put me at ease."

Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and long-term care facilities

As part of their curriculum, dental hygiene and dental students do regular rotations at the Glenrose, which doubled the capacity of its dental clinic in 2012. The dental clinic at the Glenrose is outfitted with medical lifts where patients who are elderly, medically compromised or have limited mobility can be treated. Dental hygiene students also do rotations in long-term- care facilities, performing assessments and oral care and providing dental hygiene education to the staff. Under supervision by their instructors, they learn to care for patients with dementia and other medical conditions.

Smile program

Dental hygiene students volunteer to go out into the community to give presentations to schools, day-care centres, Stollery Children's Hospital patients and other organizations.

The visits are organized by students.

Throughout the 2017-'18 school year, 31 presentations reached 440 children between the ages of 12 months and 12 years.

Rural outreach

Dental and dental hygiene students all do a two-week rotation in northern Alberta clinics in La Crete, High Level or McLennan, where they have the opportunity to do a wide range of dental work because many patients in those areas don't have access to regular dental care.

International missions

Dental and dental hygiene students volunteer to go on dental missions with two not-for-profit Edmonton organizations, Dentistry for All and Kindness in Action. Through these organizations, between 10 and 25 students provide care in countries such as Guatemala and Nicaragua each year. The students also hold an annual charity ball to raise money for the missions. They raised more than $100,000 at the 2018 event.