Penticton dentist pulling teeth to get more help at free clinic

Since September, the doors to the Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness (HECK) have been closed.

Greta Henning (left) founder of the Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness talks with the centre's first patient

Greta Henning (left) founder of the Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness talks with the centre's first patient

For more than a year, the vision of a dental clinic to help out the needy in Penticton was a reality, but since September, the doors to the Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness (HECK) have been closed.

The problem is the lack of a dentist available to hold regular hours at the clinic. During its first year of operation, that was Dr. Amal Ayoub, who initially contributed two days a week.

“We got so busy, she ended up going to three days a week,” said Greta Henning, the driving force behind the clinic.

Ayoub was the first dentist Henning worked with, back in 2011 when she organized the first free clinic, held in a room at the Penticton United Church. On that August day, they treated 18 patients, extracting 14 teeth and 18 root tips.

Those clinic days eventually grew into a permanent location for the HECK program, which opened its doors in March of 2014. In the 18 months that followed, Henning said they treated between 700 and 900 people, who came to the clinic from not only Penticton, but surrounding communities as well.

Without a dentist, though, the HECK program is pretty much dead in the water. Henning said they have had dentists, like Dr. Cindee Melashenko of Summerland, come forward and volunteer to do clinics.

“They were for just like four hours and we didn’t have any trouble filling the spots,” said Henning. “Our next is March 11, and we just see priority patients. The ones that are really struggling.”

Little has changed since Henning began her campaign for a free-standing clinic. There is still great need in the community, and while there is a good on-call dentist system through Interior Health, it doesn’t always fill the need for dental service, especially for patients that can’t have the full treatment right away.

Often, they are just given a prescription for antibiotics to relive infection, according to Henning, but while that relieves the immediate effects, it doesn’t address the real problem.

“Oftentimes, that is a band-aid. Once they get a prescription, it starts to feel better. But the next time it flares up, they are in the same shape,” said Henning. “And living off antibiotics or painkillers is not good for a body.”

Henning said she is doing her best to find a dentist, or a rotating schedule of several, that are willing to donate their time on a regular basis, so the clinic can reopen on more than an intermittent schedule.

“I have done my best to make the dental community aware we are closed, and I do need volunteers,” said Henning. “If someone is coming on a regular basis, we are prepared to pay a stipend for the work they do.”

Henning said it was an incredible feeling for herself and her volunteers operating the clinic and helping people whose circumstances kept them out of the mainstream system.

“Finally, we can make a difference,” she said. “Some of them have had significant work. Some of them are just a filling here, or filling there.”

Henning said that she is grateful they were able to negotiate a lease with BC Building that allows them to keep the clinic, even with the doors closed.

“We can wait out this dry spell. That is primarily due to the generous donations of the City of Penticton and the community foundations that gave us our boost, and helped us open up our doors,” she said. “We employ a receptionist one day a week, just to take care of any referrals that come in, or answer any questions. We will continue to do that. Of course,  when we do get a service date, she is working at booking that.”

Donations to the clinic or its dental access fund is always welcome, though, and Henning adds that they could use board members with skills in accounting, administration and other fields who are willing to help out.

The HECK program can be contacted at 778-476-2050.