Pacific Blue Cross Health Foundation supports Helicopters Without Borders fly-in dental clinic

Thursday, Mar 21, 2024

With the $10,000 donation, Helicopters Without Borders launched Canada’s first fully capable fly-in dental clinic, a program that is transforming access to essential dental services for remote communities across the province.

The Pacific Blue Cross (PBC) Health Foundation donated $10,000 to nonprofit Helicopters Without Borders (HWB) enabling much-needed dental access for British Columbians living in remote areas, including those in Indigenous communities. The fly-in dental clinic offers a wide range of dental services, while creating a positive environment and an enjoyable experience for patients.

“We would like to recognize the generous support of the Pacific Blue Cross Health Foundation, whose funds played a pivotal role in launching this initiative,” says Owen McClung-Sitnam, CEO of HWB. “Thanks to the Health Foundation, we have been able to bring state-of-the-art dental care directly to the doorsteps of residents in geographically isolated areas.”

The $10,000 donation was used to purchase two fully equipped mobile dental clinics, complete with x-ray machines, dental chairs, handpieces, compressor units and more. The mobile clinics are designed to break down, fitting into the back of HWB’s helicopters and airplanes to be transported to even the most remote locations. The clinics are set up in a sterilized environment, where dentists and hygienists provide routine, restorative and surgical procedures including fillings, root canals, extractions and professional cleanings.

“We’re proud to support the Helicopters Without Borders fly-in dental clinic,” says Jim Iker, PBC Health Foundation Board Chair. “Their commitment to providing dental care to those living in rural and remote areas aligns with our vision of a healthier British Columbia.”

Dental care has previously been inaccessible to remote communities due to the logistical and financial challenges in traveling to urban areas. For some people living in rural areas, this could mean living with pain and potentially jeopardizing their oral health. Small problems could become dental emergencies resulting in painful, expensive and often traumatic experiences.

“Rural and remote areas in British Columbia often face unique challenges in providing access to quality dental services,” says Sara Babaeian, a Dental Hygiene Practitioner with HWB. “Early intervention and access to preventative dental services is essential. What we’re doing is crucial for the health and wellbeing of these communities.”

The mobile clinic addresses the physical barriers to dental access, but there may also be mental or emotional barriers that affect rural residents. HWB understands that previous negative dental experiences may make residents hesitant to have dental work, so they focus on building strong relationships with their patients to alleviate any fear or anxiety, especially for younger patients.

"Being able to bring our services to communities has transformed experiences and improved oral health outcomes,” says Rosie Walker, a Certified Dental Assistant with HWB. “Our services allow patients to guide the pace, prioritizing rapport and trust. We've transformed experiences, especially for those with past dental traumas. Our services have not only broken down access barriers, but also redefined dental care experiences, creating a ripple effect of improved oral health within communities." 

The PBC Health Foundation’s donation has allowed HWB to provide dental care to 130 people living in BC within four communities. By focusing on increasing trust and strengthening relationships within communities, HWB hopes to reach more areas throughout the province.