UBC Dentistry: Community Involvement


As British Columbia’s only dental faculty, UBC Dentistry is in a unique position to encourage greater connections between the university and the external community: the organized professions of dentistry and dental hygiene, practising dentists and dental hygienists, and the greater communities of Vancouver, British Columbia, the rest of Canada, and the world. UBC Dentistry’s commitment to these communities runs deep and far—and as a central theme of the faculty’s strategic plan, it is expressed as a mighty call-to-action: increase the community involvement.

The University of British Columbia, like many universities, encourages a collaborative culture where people thrive in multidisciplinary work. On campus, Dentistry is among many health-related disciplines and its faculty and students are found not only in its dental clinic, where all walks of life from Vancouver can be seen in the chair, they are found working campus-wide with other UBC students and researchers advancing health-related care and scientific knowledge. Dentistry’s Elders Link with Dental Education, Research and Service Group is another dynamic example: dental, dental hygiene and graduate students plus general practice residents and researchers work with experts from many disciplines such as nursing, social work, statistics, and psychology to deliver a compelling blend of community service, research and education.

Service learning and cultural competency are rapidly emerging and developing concepts in dental and dental hygiene education. Important outcomes from these experiences include student recognition of their responsibility to provide care to people in need, social awareness and professional responsibility. More off-campus sites for current and future students will increase the diversity of patients treated by the students and enhance students’ understanding of the range of oral health needs presented by individuals with limited access to care.

UBC Dentistry’s General Practice Residency Program reaches across BC; it places residents and student externs in dental clinics serving First Nations communities in Skidegate and Massett on Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Nisga’a Valley in Terrace; the northern city of Prince George; the interior city of Kelowna; in the capital, Victoria; and in the Portland Community Clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. BC is not the only geographic area to benefit from UBC Dentistry’s commitment to underserved population groups: across Canada in remote Quebec villages people benefit from its research projects such as a randomized controlled trial testing the effectiveness of a dental caries prevention program for Cree mothers and their infants. With its community experience ranging from education, treatment, and prevention to the sustainable transfer of knowledge across a broad spectrum of locations and population groups, UBC Dentistry is well equipped to address oral health disparities in other parts of the world. UBC dental teams, whether as part of a general practice residency or a humanitarian volunteer project, can be found regularly in Vietnam and Cambodia and on special trips to countries like Mexico, Brazil and Panama.

Community service beyond the campus dental clinic starts early for dental students; their desire to serve is often inspired by the PACS (Professionalism and Community Service) program, a curriculum component in all four years of dental education that combines classroom learning with community-based outreach initiatives. UBC’s CHIUS (Community Health Initiative by University Students) is equally inspiring. This inter-professional group is popular with fellow medical students—with whom dental students study in years 1 and 2.

Involvement in the organized professions of dentistry and dental hygiene can take many forms for both faculty and students. While many members of the faculty are experts in their fields and sit on specific topic-related groups on the provincial, national and international levels, or are involved in research or educational projects like leading a symposium on digital learning that facilitates collaborations among dental personnel throughout Canada and California, students are just beginning their dental careers. UBC Dentistry and the organized professions in British Columbia provide many opportunities for students to connect with the profession and serve in the community. For example, the British Columbia Dental Association (BCDA) and UBC created a mentorship program and a summer student practitioner program (see section about enhancing the student experience). The BCDA is also a partner along with Douglas College where UBC dental and dental hygiene students work with practising dentists and dental hygienists, many of whom are alumni, in community volunteer dental clinics. The mission of these clinics (and others at the Vancouver Native Health Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; the food bank in Abbottsford, BC; and in rural First Nations communities like Kuper Island) is to improve and sustain the oral health of people in need; to promote health education and social betterment, and provide assistance through treatment, training and education; and to enhance students’ awareness and role as global citizens with sustainable opportunities to serve.

The teams working overseas focus on the long-term impact of its involvement in collaboration with local health care or educational institutions in the host country. Through developing oral health programs for patients and sharing its expertise with local peers (doctors, dentists, and nurses), the UBC teams advance the knowledge of the community with the primary goal of improving the quality of people’s daily life. While addressing the immediate oral health needs of patients is the manifest benefit of international outreach, the latent benefits—an enhanced learning environment for general practice residents and students (the clinical experience alone exposes them to diseases not seen at home, which helps make them better dentists in Canada with a large immigrant population) and the transfer of knowledge to local health care workers—has lasting effects.

More community volunteer clinic days are planned for the greater Vancouver area (up to one per month on weekends throughout the year) as well as expansion to its services in the north of the province. Plans are in the making for a dedicated floor for UBC Dentistry at a specialty hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dental students, already coming into the DMD program with a desire to volunteer, understand the educational and community service values; they often jostle for a limited number of volunteer placements and externships particularly with general practice residents. Many of Dentistry’s students, dental and dental hygiene alike, raise their own funds to travel on summer volunteer dental missions. With its passionate faculty, alumni and students, the external community views UBC Dentistry and its mandate to increase the community involvement as an integral part of oral health service and policy, and a valuable resource for British Columbians, Canadians and those in many other parts of the world.


Dr. Christopher Zed is associate dean, Strategic and External Affairs, and head, Postgraduate and Hospital Programs at the faculty of dentistry, University of British Columbia. Email: czed@interchange.ubc.ca

Read more about increasing the community involvement at www.dentistry.ubc.ca/community_involvement.

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

A Community on the Edge

UBC Dentistry provides many services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), an inner city neighbourhood with a hard-to-reach and medically underserved population. Regular community volunteer dental clinics run by students operate out of the Vancouver Native Health Society as well as other oral health initiatives at other locations.

Volunteer Dentistry in the Downtown Eastside—DMD Students Rise to the Challenges

Open drug use and a gritty sex trade butt against fledgling urban renewal. So why would students who are in the thick of studying—and particularly those in upper-level years who are also performing demanding clinic work on campus—volunteer their skills on a Saturday morning?

Find out here.

Grad Student Honoured for Work in the Downtown Eastside

Darlene Tam’s understanding of Vancouver’s oldest and most impoverished neighbourhood and its hard-to-reach and medically underserved community informs her graduate work. Darlene also volunteers for oral cancer prevention initiatives at DTES events.

Read about her achievements.

Dentistry Grad Committed to Service

For Michelle Lauwers dentistry is more than a science: it’s a charitable calling and an art. Lauwers has been active in the program’s volunteer efforts, which include free and low-cost clinics in the Downtown Eastside. She describes her volunteer work in the neighbourhood as “eye-opening and rewarding.”

Read more about her commitment to service.

Children and Seniors

An Unfamiliar Setting for UBC DMD Students

The Community Volunteer Clinical Program engages volunteer dentists, including alumni, and all years of students (both DMD and dental hygiene degree students) in weekend clinics at multiple locations. The program’s mission is to improve and sustain the oral health of people in need within the community; to promote health education and social betterment, and provide assistance through treatment, training and education; and to enhance students’ awareness and role as global citizens with sustainable opportunities to serve.

Community Programs: Being a great dental school means stretching beyond the laboratory and classroom. It is a commitment to serve dental professionals and the larger community through outreach and community development efforts. UBC’s faculty of dentistry has established a strong track record for developing and implementing new community programs to serve individuals with limited access to dental care as well as providing valuable experience for our students.

The Children’s Dental Program offers free basic dental and preventive services to low-income school-aged children from the Lower Mainland who are not eligible for existing government-funded programs. Dental services are provided by DMD and graduate clinical specialty students as well as general practice residents.

Community Giving, a Fourth-Year DMD Pediatric Elective and a Six-Year-Old’s Smile

Providing oral health care to children in need can be challenging, financially overwhelming and sometimes even heartbreaking. It can also provide great inspiration, motivation and passion. Finding a balance is what enables good practitioners—students included—to provide excellent pediatric dental care. Read more.

Toward a Healthy Smile for Every Child

Dr. Rosamund Harrison, UBC’s chair of Pediatric Dentistry, has promoted accessible, community-based oral health programs for hundreds of babies and toddlers, from South Asians and Vietnamese in BC’s Lower Mainland to Cree in remote Quebec villages. Read the full article here.

The Geriatric Dentistry Program started in 2002 as a joint venture between Providence Health Care and the UBC faculty of dentistry. The program now offers services to the residential care populations of several other hospitals. In addition to dental service, the program is also committed to education and research.

ELDERS Wisdom Improves Seniors’ Quality of Life

UBC’s ELDERS (Elders Link with Dental Education, Research and Service) Group—under the lead of Dr. Michael MacEntee—is a compelling blend of research, education and community service with each component enriching the other. Read the full article here.

Visit the ELDERS website here.

Remote and Overseas

General Practice Residency Training Program

The General Practice Residency Training Program places general practice dental residents in local specialty clinics in remote rural locations in the North, like Haida Gwaii, and around the world to sites in Vietnam, Cambodia and Birmingham, UK. The faculty’s community reach transcends geography to provide oral health care to diverse patient groups with exciting learning, research and community-service opportunities for dental residents and students. Read more.

Fourth-year DMD Student Elective: Cambodia

Last April, for the first time as an elective in fourth-year, DMD students travelled to Cambodia on rotation with general practice residents in the General Practice Residency Training Program.

Read the story here.

Ahead of the Wave in Community Engagement—Preparing a New Generation of Dentists

UBC Dentistry’s Professionalism and Community Service (PACS) program responds directly to real-life needs in disadvantaged areas with socially stigmatized groups. Some students say it’s the most meaningful and fulfilling learning they’ve ever had. Read the full article.

UBC Dentistry Team Serves Penelakut First Nation

This past July, dental and dental hygiene students, alumni and faculty of UBC Dentistry, along with community dentists and other volunteers, donated their time and professional skills to the people of Penelakut First Nation. The community volunteer clinic took place over a weekend on Kuper Island, a small, 8.66-square-kilometre island located east of Chemainus, BC, a town on Vancouver Island. Read more.

Writing and contributions by Terry Wintonyk, UBC Dentistry