dentist wearing surgical mask examining patient

Meet the patients of the GreenShield Clinic

Cost-free dental care benefits patients on so many levels

The GreenShield Clinic, a cost-free dental clinic in Canada offering comprehensive care, is changing lives.

“They come from all walks of life,” says Sonica Singhal, Dental Public Health Graduate Program director at the Faculty of Dentistry, of the hundreds of people who have received care at the clinic. It was established in 2021 by a $6.15-million donation from GreenShield; its mandate is to offer dental care to people who are not able to afford it.

“We're hearing positive reports about their oral health, their general health, their quality of life." says Singhal.

“They’re not taking painkillers, they’re not visiting physicians’ offices for their dental problems, they’re not taking time off work.” 

To attend the clinic, patients must have not been able to access dental care in the previous two years due to affordability. Both seniors and children qualify, despite having options for coverage under public dental programs in Ontario. The income thresholds of these programs tend to be low — to receive coverage from Health Smiles Ontario, for instance, families with one child must make less than $26,551.

We have many patients who are working, but do not have insurance, or it is not enough to cover their costs.” says Singhal.

“They are super happy,” Singhal says of patients. “Some patients when get enrolled find it hard to believe that a provision like this can happen for real, which takes care of all their dental needs and asks for no payment at all.”

Singhal and others are looking to the clinic as a living lab, working with patients to assess how cost-free dental care impacts oral and overall health as part of the One Smile Research Program. She adds that the clinic has done minimal marketing or advertising — word of mouth is enough.

Here are three GreenShield Clinic patients who reveal how accessing dental care has made a difference to them.

Marco, 33

Last summer was intense for Marco. He had terrible mouth pain from an infected tooth. To get through his shifts at an Italian restaurant, where he makes pizza, and welcoming a second daughter with his wife, he relied on ibuprofen.

Living on one income with a newborn and a toddler was not easy for the young family, who came to Canada in 2014 — they started out in Vancouver and came to Toronto in 2019. “All our friends and family are in Italy. We have no help,” he says.

Dental care was too costly for the family. Meanwhile, to start, his employer had no benefits; the coverage the company now offers has minimal dental.

“It makes you uncomfortable and obsessed,” says Marco of living with oral pain. Through online research he found the U of T Dentistry web site. There, he happened on the GreenShield Clinic, and realized he qualified.

“It was so great. They were so friendly. I really appreciate what they did for me.” Over several months, Marco got a root canal, an extraction, a crown on a chipped tooth and about 10 fillings. “I have no pain and I’m comfortable with my teeth,” says Marco, which was not the case when his mouth hurt and the chipped tooth was visible.

Marco’s three-year-old daughter got her teeth cleaned — he’s thrilled she’s starting out right with her oral health. His wife has also started visiting the clinic. She had significant caries herself, and got about a dozen fillings.

What a difference a year makes for the family. His wife is now returning to work, and the family has the reassurance that their dental needs are under control, and can focus on putting down roots, doing their jobs and raising their kids. “Everything is going the right way now,” says Marco.

Mawada, 20

It was only when the pain in her mouth went away that Mawada realized how bad it was. In early 2023, the recent high-school graduate had a baby tooth that had yet to fall out that was causing her discomfort.

“I could not sleep,” she recalls. During the day, the pain was much more manageable — she was able to focus well enough on the English as a second language studies she’s completing before applying to postsecondary education — but chewing with the left side of her mouth was a challenge.

She put up with it as the months passed, rinsing out her mouth often, hoping it would help. Finally, by spring, something needed to be done and she sought out the Faculty’s GreenShield Clinic where her father had a crown replaced previously. She was eligible for the research project and the clinic was able to take her, and her brother, too.

Mawada, who came to Canada from Sudan in 2018, hadn’t had dental care in years — it was affordable in her home country, but out of reach in Canada for her family as they established themselves. Being able to get to the clinic easily from the subway appealed to her, as did everyone’s compassionate and transparent approach to her care.

“I like the staff, they’re really nice. I like how they explained what they were going to do and explained things after.” Mawada found that reassuring; after all, she had no idea if her pain was because of a complex, serious problem, or if there was a simple fix.

Along with having her tooth extracted and an old filling replaced (her brother had five fillings replaced), Mawada got some useful tips on dental hygiene.

Now, she’s brushing her teeth more effectively. She used to floss a few times a week, but increasingly appreciates just how much her efforts will affect her health long term. “Now, I do it every day.”

Athanasios, 28

Athanasios works tirelessly to support his four kids. He’s separated and shares custody with his ex. “I have to support two households,” he says. “It’s very, very hard.”

Last year, his roofing business experienced a downturn. He had to take on work with another roofer to cover his expenses while he sorted out his company.

Meanwhile, both work and family life were becoming a challenge as he was coping with extreme oral pain and a badly cracked tooth that affected his appearance. “When you’re in pain, you cannot do anything,” he recalls. “When you talk to people, they watch your face. But when you have a problem with your teeth, you cannot smile, you cannot show your teeth to people.”

His worst fear: people, especially clients, would think he had a substance use disorder because of his teeth.

“I feel different. Every issue I had, they tried to solve. They really took care of me.”

Athanasios suspects many of his oral health problems are genetic, as his brother has similar issues with his teeth. His children are prone to caries, and one of them was also in pain last year.

When a friend told him about the GreenShield Clinic, it seemed a perfect fit. He qualified and underwent substantial treatment, getting two crowns, 12 extractions and partial dentures. His kids received cleanings and had their caries dealt with — some of them had so many they needed sedation. His ex is also getting care at the clinic.

His estimates all this life-changing care amounts to “thousands and thousands of dollars. I don’t know the total.” As he has no benefits and high expenses, he knows for sure he would never be able to afford such treatments in a private clinic.

Now that he’s pain free, Athanasios can focus on his work and his family. 


Get more information about the One Smile Research program at the GreenShield Clinic.




Written by: Diane Peters

Photo credit: Getty Images, bymuratdeniz