News

Smiles all around

Dental faculty works with Region to renovate pediatric clinic

Dr. Nick Lekic (left), patient Daniel Kehler, and Dr. Brad Klus.
Dr. Nick Lekic (left), patient Daniel Kehler, and Dr. Brad Klus.

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2011

Pediatric dentistry resident Dr. Brad Klus rounds the corner into an examination room.

His patients, Tanner and Conner Klassen, are here for their annual check-up along with their mom, Tammy.

"I want to go first," Conner, 8, pipes up as he hops on the chair.

Conner stretches back, closes his eyes and lets Klus examine his teeth.

"Things are looking good," Klus tells his patient, who jumps off the chair.

Then Tanner takes a seat, opens his mouth wide and Klus looks inside.

The 10-year-old still hasn't lost most of his baby teeth. They get loose, then tighten up and don't fall out like they should, Tanner says.

"You have a job to do," Klus tells the youngster. "Your job is to wiggle them even more when they get loose."

The brothers both have Cleidocranial dysplasia, a genetic condition that can cause dental abnormalities, including an inability to lose baby teeth, slower development of a second set of teeth, extra teeth or missing teeth, among other possible issues.

Both boys are about two years behind in their dental development and were referred to the clinic five years ago by another dentist. Every year, they drive from their home in Steinbach to the Children's Dental Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre complex for an annual check-up, evaluation and any other additional treatment they may need.

The clinic was founded 35 years ago by Dr. Howard Cross. Today, Cross works part-time, alongside Clinical Director Dr. Charles Lekic and two residents, Klus and Dr. Nick Lekic. A small support staff rounds out the group, which is dedicated to providing care for children with complex oral health issues.

The clinic, which sees about 1,800 patients every year, is in the midst of a $1-million renovation that will modernize the not-for-profit operation. The permanent clinic is located inside the Community Services Building across from the Children's Hospital on William Avenue, but renovations displaced operations twice to temporary spaces during construction over the summer.

On December 8, the team is scheduled to be back inside its upgraded home, which will include two sedation rooms, digital radiography, and a state-of-theart X-ray machine to replace the nearly 50-year-old one they had been using.

The old X-ray machine, which dates back to about 1963, was so obsolete that there were no available spare parts for the last 15 years. They managed with what they had, despite the fact that they were handling the most complicated pediatric dentistry cases around, says Lekic. "It was among the most outdated clinics in Western Canada."

Not anymore. Thanks to a four-year, $1-million, interest-free loan from the Winnipeg Health Region, the new clinic will have all the bells and whistles.

Lekic hopes the clinic will be able to double or even triple the number of patients it handles. Currently, patients are referred to the clinic by other dentists. Lekic and clinic staff also see patients who are admitted to the Children's Hospital for medical issues but also have complicated dental issues that need to be addressed.

All fees generated at the clinic by Lekic and the two residents will go back into the clinic and repay the loan. The clinic will also fundraise to help repay the money, says Lekic, a pediatric dental surgeon, who also heads the Pediatric Dentistry Program at the University of Manitoba.

Not one cent of taxpayers' money has gone into the clinic, which makes Lekic - who took a position at the clinic two years ago - very proud. "This is a unique situation where without a cent of tax payers money a clinic is being renovated and the funds to cover the renovations are generated through the work of the dentists."

Lekic also wants to start a foundation, amassing a healthy endowment from donations so the clinic can help as many disadvantaged and lower income children as possible. Manitoba Health covers the cost of treatment for patients with craniofacial dysplasias (complicated, abnormal development of the head and face). All other dental care is covered by the patient or an insurance plan. For every dollar raised, the Children's Dental Clinic will match the funds, thereby doubling the funds to treat as many kids as possible.

For kids like Tanner and Conner Klassen, having a dentist like Klus, who puts them at ease in the chair, makes all the difference in the world. "It's wonderful because they're so good at making the kids feel relaxed and comfortable," says the boys' mom, Tammy Klassen. "If you don't have to worry about the kids being nervous, well that's half the battle."

"I don't think I've ever been nervous about coming to the dentist. Well, I was a little nervous about the surgery," says Tanner, who had two top teeth surgically removed last February to make room for his adult teeth to come in.

They still haven't appeared but Tanner takes it all in stride. Conner, who's in the same boat, is also nonplussed about his dental issues. Despite their challenges, both boys get high marks for their oral health and are free of pain.

In many respects, the brothers are lucky.

About 500 kids in Manitoba have chronic tooth pain due to a number of issues, including untreated abscesses and cavities, complicated by poor oral hygiene. "It is unacceptable to me as a professional to go to work, to live my life knowing that there are hundreds of kids in Manitoba that go to sleep every night crying because of toothaches," Lekic says.

In Winnipeg, there are 19 pediatric dentists, making it one of the best per capita rates in the country. Yet many kids still struggle with dental health. A minority of kids - a little less than 30 per cent of all Manitoba children - have 90 per cent of all the cavities, abscesses and toothaches in the province, says Lekic. Many of those kids live in poor, rural communities and aren't always taught dental hygiene, says Lekic. "These kids are getting to the pediatric dentist too late," he says. "The solution is to get involved before the problem starts."

To that end, the clinic has started a preventive program. In their third year of their residency, pediatric dentists will go to an Aboriginal community to teach dental hygiene. The preventive program is part of their master's thesis. The clinic takes on two residents each year, so in three years, there will be six residents teaching preventive care. Lekic will also lobby for more preventive programs - another part of his master plan to help as many kids as possible. "I'm here to make sure that kids can live a life - live a childhood - free of pain," Lekic says. "It's a must-do thing, a no brainer."

Wave: November / December 2011

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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