Gathering A Reason to Smile

Local non-profit community service centre The Gathering Place is adding another service to their growing list of available resources and amenities


The Gathering Place’s dental clinic will be taking its first patients in early December, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early November, to mark the completion of this new addition to the community service centre’s amenities.

Speaking to The Herald in mid-October, Joanne Thompson, executive director of The Gathering Place, said that boxes were still being checked on the dental clinic’s to-do list.

‘Oral Health Care’

“The equipment is being installed, and the dental association and dental hygienist association are working to ensure all practices and procedures guidelines are in place,” she shared excitedly.

“The in-house health and social team will be meeting with them to strengthen our collaborative partnership. The guest excitement is sometimes overwhelming,” Thompson added.

“Through the primary health clinic, we see firsthand how oral health care connects to chronic illness. We have guests who as adults have never seen a dentist or who live in constant pain through oral infectious processes. Sadly, we have seen people die from complications arising from untreated dental abscesses,” Thompson said.

“Dental clinics for marginalized persons are historically difficult to get started. The ability to move this essential service along speaks to the generosity of dentists, hygienists, the dental association and community support, to name just a few. The family physicians reached out to the primary donor, Ches Penney, and from this initial very generous donation, other groups came onsite to assist and either give their time, donated profits from equipment sales, in-kind donations,” the executive director said, noting that “it has been and continues to be a collaborative process.”

One of the many important collaborators is Dr. Stewart Gillies, a former board member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association and the former president of the Canadian International Dental Foundation.

Gillies met with physicians and Gathering Place staff last winter to begin exploring “ways that we could make the dream of an inner city dental clinic a reality,” Thompson said.

“From the first conversation, the dental and hygienist clinic was always about partnerships and linking oral health into the existing primary health clinic,” she explained, stating that working with Dr. Gillies has been “marvellous,” and that his sense of humour, and his belief that “no problem is too great to solve” have made this lengthy process much easier.

As physicians, dentists, hygienists and Gathering Place staff work to make this dream a reality, Gathering Place guests are extremely excited about this new service, asking every day about when they can sign up. Many people who will make avail of this new amenity currently go to emergency rooms in local hospitals to seek help for dental emergencies, which can result in much lengthier wait times and less individualized service.

Life’s Necessities

Being able to go to the dentist is something many people take for granted, like many basic life necessities, Thompson said. “We have a place to feel safe, to have a cup of tea, to sleep. Many of the guests live outside of the most basic needs,” she explained.

“They come to The Gathering Place for help with clothing, food, social inclusion, literacy, use of computers, work programs and the health and social supports that are directly linked to health care, housing and income support. Oral care is part of our overall health and if you have, for example, a dental abscess, that pain will not resolve on its own,” she said.

“We have guests who … are so embarrassed that they have no front teeth, or have had all their teeth removed and have no dentures. Many guests have challenges with nutrition intake through dental problems.”

‘Smile again’

When asked about what this new dental clinic will mean for guests of The Gathering Place, the contributed comments were heartwrenching and eyeopening.  

“It has been so many years since I have had my teeth cleaned that I can’t remember what it was like,” one said. Another lamented their “black and rotted” front teeth, while another wished to be able to eat more than just soft foods, due to pain.

One comment was particularly striking: “I want to be able to smile again.”

For more information on The Gathering Place, their programs, and services, visit

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