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Free dental clinic to open in Port Coquitlam

Kevin Lauwers and Candace Woodman are Tri-Cities dentists — and husband and wife — who are working with the Hope for Freedom Society to open a dental office to service local homeless people.  - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Kevin Lauwers and Candace Woodman are Tri-Cities dentists — and husband and wife — who are working with the Hope for Freedom Society to open a dental office to service local homeless people.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

A nearly four-year struggle to find a way to provide free dental work for Tri-City homeless people has resulted in the opening of the first ever free dental clinic in Port Coquitlam.

On Saturday, Rob Thiessen of the Hope for Freedom Society and dentists Candace Woodman and Kevin Lauwers welcomed supporters to the Tri-City Dental Aid Clinic, built with donated time and $200,000 worth of donated materials and equipment.

The couple has been instrumental in establishing the clinic, which will start taking patients one day a month, starting in July, at Northside Church on Kingsway Avenue in PoCo.

Thiessen acknowledged the clinic would never have come together without the determination and effort of Woodman and Lauwers, who work at separate clinics in Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam. The couple not only took the project on but worked with their associates to gather equipment, a lengthy process that took years to complete, and have also received commitments from other dentists and hygienists to donate their services.

"I'm very grateful for them hanging in there," Thiessen told The Tri-City News.

The clinic will provide a wide ranges of services to homeless people so they don't suffer pain needlessly or have to deal with diseases related to poor oral health.

"It's a very central part of a person's health," Thiessen said. "It's not just cosmetics, it's all the things around it."

People living on no or very low incomes can't afford dental services to maintain their teeth, and then when they do see a dentist because of a bad tooth, they usually lose it, which further removes them from mainstream society.

"They become embarrassed when they lose their smile," Thiessen said, adding that he has known people who have shied away from seeking work or approaching a landlord because they think they will be turned away because of their missing teeth.

Dr. Lauwers, who started dentistry eight years ago with the idea of giving back, said he jumped on the idea of providing free dental services, and his wife, Candace, who works with Dr. Myrna Pearce and Associates, was open to the project, too. Both were already treating patients for free on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Now they'll be able to help people closer to home.

"I've never believed that finances should be a barrier to accessing care, especially if you're in pain," Lauwers said.

The couple believe they have a gift that should be shared with others and their passion has brought others into the project. Many people have contributed to the clinic, including the construction contractor, Northside Church, dental suppliers, the Rotary Club and the BC Dental Association.

"If you find out in your own neighbourhood that something could be done, it's up to you to find your gift and go out and do it," Woodman says.

Now, after shaking the trees for supplies and equipment, including dental chairs, worth $11,000 each, they are ready to improve the smiles of people living homeless and poverty-stricken in their neighbourhood. They'll start with the most urgent cases, and move on to restorative and preventative care, including education and instruction.

For Lauwers and Woodman, opening the clinic is a dream come true and, in their experience, people benefiting from free dental work more than appreciate the help.

"This is not a challenging demographic, this is a demographic that has been neglected. They're not less needy because they are poor," Lauwers added.

• For more information or to contribute, contact the Hope for Freedom Society at hopeforfreedom.org.

 

WHAT'S NEEDED

Supplies and cash are needed for the new Tri-City Dental Aid Clinic. The following is a list of equipment that is needed:

• surgical instruments and surgical hand pieces;

• endodontic (root canal) instruments, equipment and materials;

• restorative instruments and materials;

• digital x-ray unit and software;

• daily supplies, including gloves and sterilization bags;

As well, allied professionals, such as hygienists, dentists and especially, denturists, are needed to help staff the clinic one day a month.

 

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