Winnipeg dental program serving inner-city youth marks 25 years

A Winnipeg initiative is celebrating 25 years of helping inner-city youth keep their chompers healthy.

The Cholakis Dental Group: Kids Dental Outreach Program — a partnership between the University of Manitoba (UM) and Winnipeg School Division (WSD) — runs on Fridays during the school year, offering free care for children in the WSD under 18-years-old.

Dr. James Ksionzyk, director of undergraduate pediatric dentistry at UM, said hundreds of youth come to the clinic annually for crowns, fillings, extractions, and other services.

“It’s quite remarkable how many come, and it’s very gratifying because we’re mostly treating children who otherwise would not get care. Often they’re children that are in significant pain, and we’re able to do something about that for them,” he said.

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In 2022-2023, UM said dental students screened over 2,500 youth in kindergarten to grade six, with about 40 bussing in every Friday.

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“A lot of the patients we’re seeing have issues with transportation (and) getting to the dentist. They have financial issues. There are often language issues,” Ksionzyk said.

“We’re in a better position to deal with those sorts of things because regular dentist offices are sort of much busier, and at a much quicker pace.”

The program is staffed by about 30 dental students, he said, who get a great deal of experience from the initiative.

“It’s very much a win-win situation. Out students get the experience, and the school kids get the treatment they need,” he said.

In another 25 years, he hopes to see the program still functioning, hopeful with the recent support of two new sponsors.

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