Dentistry students help Oxford County expand access to care for community’s most vulnerable

OCHC---880x330.jpg Schulich Dentistry students Thomas Burrows, left, and William Xie with a patient at the dental clinic

By Cam Buchan

Thanks in part to a partnership with Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Oxford County Community Health Centre’s (CHC) dental clinic has expanded its dental services to address the unmet treatment needs of Oxford County residents.

Piloted in early 2021 as an external service placement elective and currently a mandatory placement for Schulich Dentistry’s undergraduate dental students, the clinic now marks a new stage in serving residents of Oxford County without dental benefits, and who do not qualify for existing public programs. The health centre, one of approximately 100 located across Ontario, is funded primarily by Ontario Health West, and provides wraparound health and social care services to underserved individuals with the goal of responding to community needs while lowering barriers to care.

“We are now fully operational and in partnership with an excellent dental school,” said Randy Peltz, executive director of the Oxford County Community Health Centre. “Now the vision of providing services to those in need has come alive. I always tell the students whatever care they provide here would not have happened otherwise.”

The dental clinic program offers fourth-year Schulich Dentistry students, under the supervision of a community dentist, with the opportunity to serve patients in the community. As a scheduled part of the curriculum, the clinic has expanded its patient capacity and services to include dedicated oral surgery days and denture services, thanks to student involvement and support from local community dentists.

Maria is one such patient who has been helped by the enhanced services now offered at the clinic.

“The clinic has been a saviour. I used to avoid eating anything hard because it hurt so bad,” said Maria, whose name has been altered for privacy reasons. “After getting some work done, I can eat a lot more without my teeth hurting me so much. I also have a lot more confidence because my teeth are cleaner and healthier looking. I finally have some peace of mind knowing that, if something goes wrong with my teeth, I can get help.”

“Thanks to Schulich Dentistry, we now have a dental teaching centre embedded in the same building where folks receive all these other services, and that’s a game changer,” said Zachary Hollingham, director of clinic and client services. “For example, we had a client who needed prophylactic antibiotics before their procedure, and the dental student and supervising dentist walked down the hall to talk to the client’s physician to determine the right approach for their dental treatment.”

Because of the complex needs of community members, and to provide sufficient learning time for students, the clinic focuses on the whole person rather than numbers, said Hollingham. More than 60 people – many of whom require longer, more frequent visits due to multiple conditions – have been served since April 2022, adding up to around 200 encounters overall.

For fourth-year dental student Roxana Militaru, the experience provides a personal growth opportunity, while serving members of the community who otherwise would not have access to care.

“The way the schedule and clinic are set up at CHC is very welcoming and flexible,” she said. “This allows us to take as much time as the patient needs to listen to their story and understand the circumstances of their lived experience, which then lets us provide individualized care.”

The program is an exceptional opportunity for Schulich dentistry students, said Dr. Abbas Jessani, assistant professor and assistant director for Curriculum Renewal and Service Learning.

“For the first time, our students can be involved with this unique primary care model and work closely with other primary care providers, including physicians, physiotherapists and others,” said Jessani. “Most importantly, they can experience and reflect on the importance of ‘person-centred care’ and serving community members who need their care the most. I sincerely hope that they continue serving with the notion of ‘giving back’ after they graduate.” 

The experience will certainly have a positive effect on Militaru’s career.

“It's very special to have an opportunity to give back to the community so early in our careers,” she said. “The experience has certainly reinforced the need, and how great things are possible when we rally together as a community.”

The realization of the clinic is the result of significant local community efforts and funding over seven years, including the notable support of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc., United Way Oxford, Pow Laboratories Inc., Oxford County Human Services, and Southwestern Public Health, amongst many others.

For more information on the clinic services offered at the clinic, please contact Zachary Hollingham, director of clinic and client services (Email:; Phone: (519) 539-1111 x 214).