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By Mike Pickford
It has been another successful year for local dentist Dr. Raj Khanuja, who just last month celebrated the success of the seventh-annual iteration of his ongoing ‘Doing Positive in my Backyard' campaign.
Launched back in 2012, Dr. Khanuja and his staff at Headwaters Dental Centre, located at 170 Lakeview Court in Orangeville, have dedicated one day each year to providing free dental care to the community's most vulnerable residents. On June 13, the team did it all again as they welcomed a record 34 patients through the doors of the local facility.
“It has been a special year for us with free dental day,” Dr. Khanuja told the Citizen. “We saw a lot of people coming to us for help, and we helped more people than ever this time. There is a real need for this type of service here in Orangeville. We're happy we're able to do our part.”
Dr. Khanuja has been lauded on both the provincial and national stage for his work with the program, receiving numerous awards for his efforts. Most recent was the prestigious June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism, dished out to Dr. Khanuja back in April. He is one of the 12 individuals and four organizations to receive this award from the Ontario government. Headwaters Dental has also been recognized with a Canadian Business Excellence Award for a Private Business in each of the past two years.
Dental Care Day as it has been coined by Dr. Khanuja is catching on. Already this year, Dr. Khanuja has led similar initiatives at his other dental centres in Brampton, Stoney Creek and Fergus. While he envisages the program spreading even further over the coming years, it's in Orangeville where it all began.
While he is proud of what he has been able to do through Free Dental Day and his greater ‘Doing Positive in my Backyard' initiative, he takes satisfaction in the smiles and appreciation of those patients who, without the generosity of those at Headwaters Dental, would likely forego their dental health.
“These people are always very happy, very glad, very thankful. They can't believe that they're able to get this work done for free,” Dr. Khanuja said. “For a lot of these people, they have been in pain or discomfort for a long time. To have even a small issue fixed is a big deal for them. We can see it right away, the relief. We're delighted to be able to give back to our community and help people who really need it.”
Inspiration for the program was born when Dr. Khanuja participated in an overseas mission trip to help provide oral healthcare services to citizens of developing nations several years ago. That inspiration blossomed when Dr. Raj met a local mother who, he says, was ignoring her dental issues so that she could provide for her young children.
“I guess the thing that actually kicked it all off was when I continued seeing a mother with three children coming into our office, bringing her kids in for work on their teeth,” Dr. Khanuja said. “She was always focused on her children, never making appointments for herself, even though I knew she had an issue with a tooth. I told her it was only going to get worse unless she got it fixed.”
He added, “This mother told me that she had a decision between fixing her tooth or purchasing hockey gear for her son, and she picked the hockey gear. That really touched my heart. I saw this was a mother who was doing her best as a single parent to take care of her kids, providing for them what they needed while sacrificing her health because she couldn't afford to take care of both things.”
“That's when I knew I had to start this program, and I knew she was going to be its first patient,” Dr. Khanuja finished.
The centre offers three procedures on Free Dental Day – a full dental cleaning, a tooth coloured filling, limited to one tooth per patient, or a simple tooth extraction, again limited to one tooth per patient. Although Dr. Raj and his team at Headwaters Dental have carried out close to 200 procedures since the inception of Free Dental Day, he'd still like to do more.
Describing his “dream” to the Citizen, Dr. Raj said he'd like to introduce a permanent community clinic to the Headwaters region, where people who can't otherwise afford dental work can go in case of emergency.
“My vision has always been this, to provide a centre, a space where residents go to get the help they need and, frankly, deserve,” Dr. Khanuja said. “We're not there yet, but I hope that one day we can see something like this become a reality for this region.”
For more information on Headwaters Dental Centre and the services it provides, call the office at 519-941-2273.
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