Making a difference: Free dental clinic finds home

Penticton service the first permanent one of its kind in the South Okanagan, where it will treat people who are in dental distress

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

The first not-for-profit dental clinic in the South Okanagan has opened its doors in Penticton.

The Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness traces its roots back to August 2011, when Greta Henning tried an experiment in offering free emergency dental care to low-income people in Penticton.

Henning partnered with Dr. Amaal Ayoub, a licensed general practice dentist Winnipeg MB, who has also now volunteered to work two days a week at the permanent clinic.

Together they treated 18 patients at that first clinic in the basement of the Penticton United Church, extracting 14 teeth and 18 root tips.

Since then, there have been 18 dental clinics at assorted locations in the South Okanagan, partnering with volunteer dentists and helping 185 individuals with tooth pain, infection or loss of function.

“That was for me to see is it even possible, can we even do this,” said Henning. “These kinds of clinics were starting to spring up in other communities already.”

A public health worker in the dental centre, she was aware there was a need in the community, that many low-income folks were living with untreated dental problems because they couldn’t afford to pay for care.

But setting up a permanent location was always a goal for Henning, who said a lot of factors came together to make the emergency dental clinic a reality, from community help, to support from businesses and B.C. Housing who found a space she could afford to rent.

“The same people that B.C. Housing is trying to help are the same people we are trying to help. So there was a very good fit there,” said Henning.

Then there was a special gift from a retiring dentist.

“It was serendipitous that Dr. David Jenkins was closing his practice and he donated his entire dental office,” said Henning, explaining that Jenkins contributed everything from chairs to equipment and tools.

Hour Glass, Britco, Rona, Greyback Construction and several others helped make the clinic a reality, added Henning, by either donating materials, time, or offering discounts where they could.

“There were lots of little things, like Penticton Lock and Key, they donated the keys,” said Henning, who said there is still work to do.

“What we are looking for is someone to work on our sidewalk,” said Henning.

They also need window coverings to make the view one way, so a passersby can’t see in as people are getting treated.

“And we need donations of money to upgrade any necessary equipment,” said Henning.

“It costs about $1,000 a day to run the clinic and already we have seen about upwards of 200 people since our doors open.”

Henning stresses that it is an emergency clinic; patients must not already have a dentist they are seeing, and they must have pain or infection, and not be able to afford regular dental care.

The H.E.C.K dental clinic is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., located at 101-431 Winnipeg St.

Henning said they accept walk-in traffic as well as appointments, but admits the front door can be a little hard to find.

“You have to access that by going off Wade Avenue, and you go down an alley,” said Henning.

When we are on the phone, we are always having to tell people where we are.”