Dr. Ross Crapo admits that he launched a free day of dental care four years ago primarily as a marketing tool.
But the need was beyond what he imagined, and the most severe day-to-day dental cases didn’t come close to the suffering of Victoria’s homeless and those living in poverty.
“I initially got involved with it because of the marketers. They said it would be a good way to market the practice and that’s the reason I started it,” said Crapo (pronounced Cray-po). “Then we had the experience of the first year, and we saw things we don’t normally see.
“You get an appreciation for how people are suffering on a daily basis. It’s hard for the rest of us to imagine.”
On Saturday, Crapo and Dr. Ngan Huynh are offering the fourth annual Dentistry From The Heart at Crapo’s office in Saanich. In three years Crapo’s team has helped 170 people living with painful cavities and rotten teeth.
“We were seeing street people, single moms beaten down from demands on their time and energy with no funds,” he said.
“The need is very strong in the community. Once they’re put through they’re so appreciative we’ve helped them. It’s great for them and its a wonderful experience for myself the staff and other doctors.”
Clients at the free dental day tend to be the working poor, single moms and their kids, and those living on the street. About 20 volunteers manage the intake of clients and a triage process to sort the worst cases, often those who are drug addicted.
“Because of a dependance on drugs, there’s neglect and dry mouth ... decay tears the teeth apart,” Crapo says. “The nerves are in play, the abscesses and swelling makes life unbearable.”
The number of people treated in a day depends on the severity of the cases. If there’s smooth triage and straightforward procedures, the patient can be out in 15 minutes. Others take an hour of work.
“We try to deal with the most severe abscesses and broken teeth. We’re not here for crowns and dentures. This is emergency dental care,” he said.
“There are limits. If someone comes in with all their teeth rotten to the gum, we’ll remove teeth with the active abscesses and not take all the teeth out. One fellow came in last year with all his teeth rotten to the gum. We took out four teeth and he was delighted, over the moon.”
Bryce Gibney, who runs the Dentistry from the Heart in Western Canada, said Crapo pioneered the program in B.C. and is its strongest supporter in Canada. The dental surgeon donates $30,000 to $40,000 worth of dentistry and staff time over the day. Thrifty Foods and Red Barn Market donate food for the volunteers.
Gibney said that anyone in dental-related pain will be treated that day, and if the problems are too widespread, Crapo will often see the person at a later date.
“I’ve seen people with tooth aches for two months with their jaw infected. We get people like that in such distress but we can’t do much that day but get them on antibiotics,” Gibney said.
“When the doctor brings the patient back, he will do the work. Dr. Crapo doesn’t finish Dentistry from the Heart until some weeks later.”
Crapo noted that his day is an addition to the dental services offered weekly by the Cool Aid Society in downtown Victoria.
“The Cool Aid Society does a great job. They are a force for good,” he said.
Dentistry From The Heart is Saturday, Sept. 28, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 4400 Chatterton Way, Suite 206. Call 250-383-3368 for advance scheduling. First come, first served after the first 50 scheduled appointments. See dentistryfromtheheart.org.