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The DOCS Difference

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By Jennifer Parraga, BA'93

“DOCS is attempting to fill the huge gap in accessible dental care in London, and while it isn’t possible help everyone – we know that DOCS is making a difference and providing top quality care to those it serves,” said Dr. Pennie Thornton, DDS’81.

Dr. Thornton is a proud Western alumnus, a part-time faculty member at Schulich Dentistry, and a volunteer with DOCS. A veteran with the program she along with many faculty volunteers sees the value it brings to the community each time she sits next to a patient in a dental chair during a DOCS clinic sessions.

DOCS is the Dental Outreach Community Service. It’s become a fixture of sorts at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and since 2012, it is a mandatory component of the dentistry curriculum. The program provides free dental care to vulnerable populations in London through mobile clinics and clinic hours offered on campus in the School’s main dental clinic.

“There is a need for greater access to care in London, as well as many other communities throughout Southwestern Ontario,” said Dr. Craig Lauwerier, a faculty volunteer and dentist. And he believes DOCS is making a difference. “DOCS is helping individual who find themselves with no other options to address their dental needs,” he said.

In any given year more than 300 patient visits take place through the DOCS clinics. This can include general examinations, x-rays, cleanings, fillings, extractions and even root canals.

The Program, which is supported largely through donations and through the time of volunteers, is doing what it can to provide care to people in the community.

There’s a second chapter to the “DOCS difference” story however, and that is how it engages and teaches students. Because it is part of the fourth-year curriculum for the Doctor of Dental Surgery program, students gain experiential experience, begin to understand the real health care needs in the community, and have an opportunity to support more vulnerable populations.

Drs. Matthew Harper, Chloe MacGowan and Nicole Thomson are recent Schulich Dentistry graduates who count themselves as fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate in DOCS.

“DOCS allows future dentists to gain a better understanding of the challenges so many people face with access to care in the community. It’s not something that you can really appreciate in a classroom; it must be learned by experience,” said Dr. Harper.

Because of the lack of access to care, many of the patients the students see have more complex dental health issues. Working with faculty, the students are challenged to consider more innovative approaches to the care.

“While treating patients in the DOCS clinics, we are required to create treatment plans and deliver treatment to a population that is underserved yet in great need,” said Dr. MacGowan.

“Due to the complexity of many of these patients’ lives, we often have to be creative in developing treatment plans that are ideal for the patient as a whole,” Dr. Thomson added.

Through DOCS, students learn more about bias, empathy and understanding. They also gain an appreciation for the team approach to health care delivery and how effective it is.

DOCS is a rewarding learning experience for students and faculty members, and it continues to make a difference for people in London.