Mouths wide open for dentists’ free clinic

For years, Jim Ford used a handheld Dremel grinder to file and fill his own teeth, plugging them himself with a dental compound purchased in the United States.

That ended last year when he read about Dentistry from the Heart, which provides free emergency dental care to people in need. Ford received $700 worth of treatment, and on Saturday, he was back in the offices of Dr. C. Ross Crapo and Associates for another round.

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Dentistry would be a luxury item if not for the free clinic, Ford said. The 61-year-old’s $1,000 monthly disability cheque barely covers his rent and food.

“I think it’s fantastic and the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

A person could easily get hooked on drugs to deal with the pain or have their physical health fail because of not being able to get urgent dental care, Ford said.

Dr. Ngan Huynh, of Victoria’s Broad Street Dental, and Dr. Ed Lowe — who grew up in Oak Bay but now practises in Vancouver — joined Crapo, three hygienists and about 20 volunteers Saturday to provide free emergency dental care to about 50 people at a cost of more than $17,500.

Crapo said the exercise is about the human experience of giving and receiving.

“It’s good to see people relieved of pain and all of a sudden become their best selves,” he said.

Crapo was the first dentist in B.C. to set up an annual free clinic with Dentistry from the Heart, an international non-profit organization dedicated to providing free dental care to people in need.

“He runs it the best I have seen,” said Bryce Gibney, a dental consultant with the foundation.

The dentists’ aim is to eliminate pain or ease discomfort.

“Some people here are in extreme pain,” Gibney said.

Lorenzo Austin Francis knows about pain. In recent months a “boom boom” in his head — the result of a broken, infected tooth — had been keeping him up nights and distracting him during the day. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

The 41-year-old worked at Nanaimo Shipyards for 10 years before the company restructured and he was laid off in February. Since then, Francis, a former college and semi-pro football player, has been volunteering with the West Shore Rebels and Mount Doug Rams teams.

Despite his anxiety, Francis let Lowe extract two teeth.

“I feel a lot better than when I walked in the door … I feel a lot lighter now,” Francis said. “I don’t feel so dragged down.”

He’s hoping with the stress of the pain gone, he’ll have better luck finding a new job.

Lowe, who practises cosmetic dentistry, has treated a lot of Hollywood stars but says he gets the greatest satisfaction from helping people less fortunate. The dentists do it “because we can,” he said.

Huynh says the free clinic removes all barriers — financial ones for patients and time constraints for dentists. “We just get to do what we’re good at,” he said.

charnett@timescolonist.com

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