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Vital People: Dental care program puts smiles on kids' faces

Heather Burkett started the society after meeting a student in 2011 who had such bad oral hygiene that it took weekly visits to the dentist for six months to fix all of them.
A young patient, left, about to receive a free dental procedure gives a thumbs-up at the ORCCA Dental Clinic in Sidney. Dr. Mitra Hashemi, one of the dentists who provides services at the clinic, sits by her side. ORCCA DENTAL CLINIC SOCiETY

Children and adolescents from low-income families have something to smile about, thanks to free dental care provided by the Oral Care for Children and Adolescents (ORCCA) Dental Clinic Society.

The society was founded in 2013 in the belief that all kids have the right to oral care.

Heather Burkett, board chair of the society, said she started it after meeting a student in 2011 who had such bad oral hygiene that it took weekly visits to the dentist for six months to fix all of them.

“He came to my attention because he had a behavioural problem — likely due to him being in pain for about two years due to rotting teeth,” said Burkett, who used to be a district principal for Saanich.

“He was 11 years old and needed three root canals and almost every other tooth in his mouth filled. With his mouth fixed, he went on to being a model student and graduating.”

She said 12 years and thousands of patients later, her greatest reward is seeing patients — and parents — walk out of the clinic with smiles on their faces.

In 2022, the society’s team — mostly made up of volunteers — provided more than 1,000 procedures to children in Greater Victoria, Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands.

ORCCA provides, on average, eight fillings per child, along with teaching kids how to keep their teeth and mouths clean. It also provides guidance on making good nutritional decisions and developing healthy habits.

​Burkett said providing free dental care — along with the associated costs of running a clinic — is expensive and she is grateful for the assistance provided by the Victoria Foundation in helping the group to secure a grant from Green Shield Canada, a health benefits provider.

The assistance meant the group was able to pay the salary of an office manager and part of a dental assistant’s salary.

“They really went to bat for us,” said Burkett. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without that funding. They were marvelous to deal with.”

The non-profit dental clinic gets referrals from social agencies and the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria. It accepts patients with a household income of less than $50,000 and those without dental insurance, providing dental care for children and youth 19 and under.

The clinic, located in Sidney, tries not to turn any patients away, with a special committee that reviews the treatment costs of some patients who need dental work or release from pain brought on by abscesses and other untreated infections.

For more information, or to volunteer if you have dental training, go to

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