Citizen Dental Hygiene strives to make oral health accessible for all Calgarians

Interview by Shane Flug
Article by Elle McLean
Photos by Will Geier

For many people, visiting a dental office for an annual or bi-annual teeth cleaning and check-up is out of reach without some sort of benefits or health care coverage. Sadly, there is a high number of Calgarians who can’t afford dental care, or who aren’t able to take the time off of work in order to access it. Citizen Dental Hygiene, which opened its doors in 2015, aims to make oral health accessible for all Calgarians.

Lace Shaw had been working one day a week as a hygienist at Shelly Lambe’s previous clinic, Endearing Smiles, for several years when Lambe and her business partner decided to go separate ways. Shaw was presented with the opportunity to become a partner in the new clinic Lambe wanted to open. However, it took a lot of hard work to turn the plans for their clinic into a reality. The pair both worked second jobs during their first year in business to maintain personal financial commitments such as rent and groceries until they could afford to begin paying themselves as hygienists.

As Shaw stepped into her role as partner at Citizen Dental, she brought with her many new, big ideas. The primary source of which came from her observation that “the chair was empty” at the previous clinic.

“I was seeing patients that were buying discounted whitening services – that was Endearing Smiles business model prior – and they were coming in after not having been to the dentist for five or ten years and paying $100 online for a whitening, thinking that was going to be the thing that could make their teeth look better,” Shaw remembers.

Seeing this gap in the knowledge of so many patients led Shaw to developing Citizen’s business model around the concept that education is the first step to promoting the importance of better oral health.

“You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that I need to floss, but until you tell me why, I’m never gonna do it,” Shaw states. This mindset is the reason that a large amount of the population neglects their oral hygiene and dental health, and this is what Citizen is striving to change.

Citizen provides a variety of options and services in order to make affordable dental care possible, including their Karma Program and student discounts, as well as offering financing for dental services. In addition to this, Citizen stays open until 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, which is later than most other dental offices, as well as being open on Saturdays, allowing for working professionals to make an appointment without having to take time off from their jobs. As well, Citizen offers free laser teeth whitening with every cleaning covered by a person’s benefits. Shaw and Lambe have also partnered with a referring dentist onsite, should any further work be necessary.

The Karma Program is likely the most inventive and community-minded service offered at Citizen Dental, which Shaw has structured so that it has a cost of $200.

“You’d be surprised at the breadth and the width of who we’re seeing using the program,” Shaw says. She lists independent business owners, bartenders and waitresses, musicians, and the elderly among those who participate in the Karma Program.

The Karma Program is available for any first-time visitor to the clinic, and during the one-hour appointment the hygienist completes as much scaling and polishing as they can, as well as x-rays if needed. The hygienist also completes an oral check-up, and if they think more work is needed they will provide treatment options or refer the patient to a dentist.

If the patient is referred to a dentist and is unable to cover the cost for the full amount of the dental care, financing is an option that Citizen has made available. Citizen has partnered with iFinance Dental to be able to provide their patients with a financing plan called the Dentalcard. This plan allows patients to pay equal monthly payments, taking as little as six months to pay in full, or as long as six years. Financing can be easily applied for by filling out an application online or by speaking with a receptionist at the office.

For post-secondary students, Citizen offers a 20 per cent discount, and they accept all student health care plans with the exception of the University of Calgary. As well, Citizen does all the work when it comes to insurance by taking care of direct billing all insurance companies, so that the only thing their patients have to worry about is paying any difference in the balance due that is not covered by their plan.

Citizen is kid- and family-friendly, and appointments can be booked one after another so that multiple family members can take care of their dental cleanings in one visit. The hygienists focus on educating children about the importance of oral hygiene while ensuring that kids are entertained and enjoy their visit.

Shaw is working hard to make dental care accessible for all Calgarians and spread the word on how to better care for teeth and promote oral hygiene, and rumor has it she’s also got her own in-house tooth paste in the works!

“We’re not making a ton of profit, but that’s not what’s important. I mean, if you can pay your staff at the end of the day and you can keep the lights on and you can keep the business running, and you can help people . . . it’s not that hard to do the math.”

Citizen Dental always welcomes new patients, and you can book an appointment through their website or by calling 403.457.0250. To learn more, find Citizen Dental online and at 320 23 Ave. SW in Calgary’s Mission district.