By Elaine Bombay 
BELLEVILLE – Free dental care was offered last Saturday in downtown Belleville as part of a nationwide dental hygiene day called Gift From the Heart.
“It’s my way to give back to my community as a dental hygienist. We wanted everyone to have access to dental hygiene care.
“So along with 16 of my colleagues across Ontario, we started this … a one-day free, no-cost, dental hygiene day. Since that time, this being the seventh year now, it has gone coast to coast in Canada. I think we have 110 or 115 locations across Canada participating today,” she said.
When the clinic at Maxwell College on Front Street opened at 8:30 a.m., there were already people lined up for appointments. Some had been there since 4 a.m., said Woods. The clinic had 50 booked appointments, in addition people who were dropping in with no appointments.
The clinic was staffed by about 20 volunteers, including 15 dental hygienists.
A dental hygienist for 30 years, Woods knows many in the community cannot afford dental care.
It’s not just those who have fallen on hard times. For the self-employed, those without workplace dental insurance and seniors, it is often a choice between putting food on the table and dental care.
“Every year, I am astounded by the number of people who cannot afford basic, basic care. I’m not talking about having your teeth done with beautiful veneers, or crowns and bridges, or having whitening done. I’m talking about just the basic, someone to look at them and help you to care (for your teeth), because that is your whole well-being,” said Woods.
“If we could help people keep their oral health up to good standards, they would eat better, they would keep their natural teeth longer, they would digest food better, they would live a long and healthy life. Heart disease – there are so many things that all link up with the oral cavity first. That should be number one, it should be not be a luxury,” she said.
Kayla Koomans came on Saturday for a check-up and cleaning. The high cost of dental care and some bad experiences in the dental chair meant that she had not had her teeth checked for several years.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for people. It is good for people with dentist anxiety. (The hygienist) explained everything and made me feel at ease,” she said.
A check-up is about more than just clean teeth. A dental hygienist will assess your oral cavity, saliva ducts, tongue and throat and screen for oral cancer. They will also look at your face to determine your overall health.
“Your inside relates to your outside as well,” said Woods.
For those who find the cost of dental care prohibitive, Woods advises them to check with the health unit for services for which they may qualify.
“If you can’t afford a toothbrush, use a sugarless gum or a natural gum to increase the saliva in your mouth. Taking a washcloth and just making sure that you wipe your teeth off, all the surfaces of your teeth—you can use that. Even for young children growing up, you can go back to the basics. There are home remedies that you can be using at home (so) that you don’t have to buy products off the shelf,” Woods said.
Just ask your dental hygienist.