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Dentist office puts smiles on faces of impoverished

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When people think of the needs of the homeless or those on the fringe of society, many think of warm clothing, food and medical care.
All those are necessary, but few people also think about the need for dental care. And yet, a toothache can be agonizing. For people without the means to see a dentist, it can make their lives even more miserable.
Enter Susan Roth and dentist Elwood Astelford. Their Vernon dentist office, located on 32nd Avenue, looks like any other, but they have a vision to provide dental care to anyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay.
Roth said they take homeless people, those on social assistance, low-income earners or whoever else needs dental work. They receive referrals from organizations such as the Upper Room Mission and will work with any client to ensure he or she gets needed dental work.
When the office opened in May 2011, Roth and Astelford shared the vision of running a dental office with full-paying clients while helping those who couldn't afford a dentist.
As soon as the open sign was hung on the door, Roth was on the phone to area churches, the mission, Venture Training, the street nurse clinic and any other organization she could think of that might have potential clients.
It was a marketing blitz of sorts in which the main goal was not to make a lot of money, but to help a lot of people.
"I asked if they knew of anyone and we were swamped. We're still swamped," she said.
No one is turned away from the office. Roth said she and Astelford see it as a way to apply their Christian beliefs.
"The whole purpose of opening was to do what God wanted us to do," said Roth. "Now, I see miracles all the time."
Roth said it is not uncommon for a stranger to offer to cover the bill of a client who can't afford the dental work he or she just received.
Others will pay more than their bill and ask the extra money be put toward helping others. Lots of dental work is done at a reduced cost.
"It's amazing to see people pay it forward," said Roth. "It was such a phenomenal experience for me."
Roth also organizes fundraisers to help cover the bills, and some organizations have set up accounts to pay for dental work.
Cleaning, extractions, fixing cavities and low-cost dentures all are offered by the dental centre.
Bev Henke, street-level supervisor for the Upper Room Mission, said the work done by Astelford has changed people's lives.
"When you have a mouth full of sore teeth and gums, you can't eat properly, you can't sleep properly, it affects your health," said Henke, adding people also feel better about themselves if they have healthy teeth.
"They are very thankful they get some help," she said.
Henke said the Upper Room Mission has a bottle-collection drop-off that helps pay for some of the dental work. Of course, people can also make donations.

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