Green Shield Canada (GSC) has donated $6.15 million to the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry. This gift, which is the largest single donation to dental public health research in Canadian history, is poised to transform dental public health research and policy development in the country, according to the university.
Donated through GSC’s Green Door Project, which seeks to help Canadians secure access to healthcare, the gift will fund the establishment of a five-year research program that will offer no-cost oral healthcare to thousands of individuals and their families who could not otherwise afford it.
“Since our founding in 1957, Green Shield Canada has operated as a social enterprise focused on improving access to effective, evidence-based healthcare,” said GSC president and CEO Zahid Salman.
“Our collaboration with the University of Toronto on the Green Door Project is a continuation of this history. Together, we will provide oral healthcare to underserviced populations and aim to start a conversation across the country about how to permanently increase access to dentistry for the uninsured and underinsured in our communities,” Salman said.
GSC is the fourth largest health and dental benefits provider in Canada, according to the company.
The gift will fund a two-chair dental clinic at the Faculty of Dentistry, located in the heart of Canada’s most densely populated urban center. The One Smile research program will simultaneously conduct the largest dental public health research program in Canadian history while delivering care to potentially thousands of patients in the clinic, which will be known as the Green Shield Canada Clinic.
“I would like to thank Green Shield Canada for this incredibly generous and creative gift,” said Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto. “The Green Door Project and the Green Shield Canada Clinic will benefit so many disadvantaged individuals and communities and help to build a healthy and inclusive society. This wonderful gift will also significantly advance U of T’s mission of national and global leadership in healthcare and public health policy.”
“As an organization, we have always tried to follow evidence in our advocacy for improvements in healthcare and, in this case, the evidence pointed us squarely in the direction of oral health as one of the most significant gaps Canadians face in accessing the care they need to live their healthiest lives,” said David Willows, executive vice president of digital, innovation, and brand experience for GSC.
“Oral health and access to oral healthcare are significant public health issues, not just dentistry-related issues, and need to be treated as such,” said Faculty of Dentistry associate professor Carlos Quiñonez, DDS, MSc, PhD, who will lead the One Smile research program.
Oral healthcare is an increasing concern for Canadians everywhere, the university said, as studies have shown the systemic effect that oral health can have on overall health with poor oral health intrinsically linked to complications from diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.
However, the university continued, one in five Canadians does not have access to oral healthcare. Also, people from lower income brackets are four times more likely to avoid seeing a dentist due to the cost and are far more likely to have worse oral health and dental treatment needs, the university said.
Canada’s oral health statistics were a major motivator for GSC’s philanthropy, the university said.
“We carefully considered how we could best move the current system forward, both in terms of actually helping a portion of Canadians get access to the care they need, but also looking longer-term at addressing the systemic barriers that have led us to this place,” Willow said.
“That really sums up what the Green Door Project is here to do: working with community and academic partners like the University of Toronto to come up with smart, sustainable ways to move the needle forward on critical components of health,” Willow said.
Quiñonez, who also is director of the graduate specialty program in dental public health at the Faculty of Dentistry, has assembled a multidisciplinary team of experts in healthcare delivery, health economics, dental public health, public policy, immunology, and periodontology.
Individuals and their families admitted into the One Smile research program, which will be an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people, will take part in a multi-layered study that will continuously assess their oral health, overall health, pain levels, and social factors such as life satisfaction, employability, and more, over the course of five years.
The goal of the program is to establish a unique body of evidence that can be used to inform public health policies regarding oral health and access to care.
Acknowledging past work in dental public health and access to care, Quiñonez said this will be the first research program that will frame access to healthcare in terms of a return on investment, whether through improving human capital, social economic gains, or lifting the burden on existing healthcare structures.
Those who cannot access oral healthcare often have to resort to hospital emergency room care, for instance, adding pressure to an already strained healthcare system, Quiñonez said.
“We know that oral health is an integral part of overall health,” said Daniel Haas, DDS, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Dentistry. “This unique, multidisciplinary research program will create meaningful measures of the impact of oral healthcare on individuals, families, the healthcare system, and society, which will allow us to extrapolate that impact to the regional, provincial, and national public health discourse.”
“Our goal is not to convince governments about expanding coverage for dental care in Canada, but to create the knowledge that is needed to help make policy decisions based on evidence and good research,” Quiñonez said. “What I primarily want to see is that we’ve been able to inform existing policy debates and, most ideally, to help people who desperately need access to dental care.”
The One Smile research program also will continue the Faculty of Dentistry’s history as a leader in dental public health research, the university said. The program stands to attract top graduate student talent to tackle the wealth of studies that could be generated from the original program, the university noted.
“On behalf of the Faculty of Dentistry, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to our partners at Green Shield Canada for this generous donation,” said Haas. “With this investment in the One Smile research program, the Faculty of Dentistry has before it a truly remarkable opportunity to further strengthen our vision to improve health by advancing dentistry through inspired leadership, innovation, and excellence in education, research, and practice.”