City dentist helps people with disabilities flash a healthy smile

Dr. Jessica Bourassa has won a Hero Award from Community Living for improving access to dental care for people with special needs. Jake Romphf

Jake Romphf

Dr. Jessica Bourassa is this year’s Hero Award recipient from Community Living for her effort to help people with special needs.

“I’m shocked. I’m blown away,” said Bourassa, who connects people with disabilities to dental care through a non-profit organization called Oral Health, Total Health.

Bourassa said she got involved with special needs patients while a dentistry student at the University of Toronto, and followed that with rotations at a Mount Sinai Hospital specialty clinic.

“I was shocked people would come from four-plus hours away to this clinic when it was a student seeing them.”

Bourassa launched the Sarnia branch of Oral Health, Total Health, and for the past four years has organized a Sharing Smiles Day, which features carnival activities, education and oral hygiene demonstrations.

“Access to dental care is the number one unmet need of adults with special needs,” she said. “I’m trying to promote that everyone should have access to good dental care in their community.”

Bourassa said people with disabilities could have problems with dexterity or keeping their mouth open. Communication issues can make it difficult to tell others they have a toothache, or that something doesn’t feel right.

“There are signs to be looking out for that we, as providers, can help families and case workers know what to look for.”

She said it’s important everyone get routine dental care, “and not just when something hurts.”

She added she’s very appreciative of winning the award.

“It’s really motivating me to try to do more.”