Mayor's honour puts a smile on DOCS faces
By Adela Talbot
January 23, 2014
In less than a decade, Dr. Kenneth Wright has given many Londoners something to smile about.
A dentist and professor in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Wright founded the school’s Dental Outreach Community Services (DOCS), responsible for the restoration of many smiles in low-income communities across London. DOCS provides free dental care to those who cannot afford it, by way of a mobile dental unit that comes to the patients’ communities.
Last week, Wright was named to the Mayor of London’s Honouree List for 2014. He joins Talia Goldberg, a fourth-year Physiology student, who heads up the Adult Blind Swim Program, as one of two Western individuals to be so honoured.
“We have five children and one – our daughter – has Down’s (Syndrome),” Wright said, noting it was caring for her that sparked his and his wife’s involvement and service in the community.
“That changed our life. When she was born in Toronto, the pediatrician said, right away, ‘Do you know any politicians?’ He said it would be easier to get your child into an institution – that was the current philosophy. But we didn’t want to do that. She changed our lives, and many people’s lives, in several ways. We became involved in what was the London District Association for the Mentally Retarded – they call it Community Living now – and that branched out in working for United Way, and so on.”
Wright has, over the years, been a dedicated community volunteer and fundraiser with many other organizations, including the McCormick Home, SARI Therapeutic Riding and the Scatcherd School. DOCS, he said, was something that came after he retired.
The idea came after he read about a similar initiative at his alma mater, in the McGill University alumni newsletter.
“A lady in our church approached me and said there were a lot of refugees living in the Limberlost area, trying to find jobs but they had dental problems,” Wright said, noting she asked if he could help out.
He approached Dr. Harinder Sandhu, then-director of Schulich Dentistry, looking to get DOCS off the ground. When the idea of going out into the communities in need surfaced as a better option for the program, Wright agreed to raise the money for the portable dental units, so long as DOCS was incorporated into the Dentistry curriculum and Sandhu agreed.
At first, Wright and a team of volunteer London dentists and dental hygienists went out, with three portable units, to work in London’s low-income communities. The following year, the program was open to dental students on a volunteer basis. Today, the work is done by fourth-year Dentistry students, as part of the curriculum, while professors supervise.
Within one year of its inception, 246 appointments were made and over 150 patients were seen at 12 locations.
DOCS currently operates in seven pockets across London, with patients referred by social service agencies. They are in the community once a month, doing examinations, X-rays and fillings. The program has partnered with a number of London’s oral surgeons, the Interface Centre for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Fanshawe College’s dental hygienist program, among others, to provide extended and specialized care to patients, such as complicated extractions.
There are also four Saturday mornings each year at Western’s dental clinic, dedicated to more complicated patient cases.
“We are now in our sixth year; it is now part of the curriculum. But I was worried – I’m a senior and if anything happens to me, I don’t want it to fall. It was really important for me to get it into the university, and have someone take over,” Wright said, noting Dr. Les Kalman has followed in his footsteps.
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