Dentistry student works to improve oral health in Manitoba Indigenous communities

Evan Loeb, a Métis student who recently graduated from the University of Winnipeg (U of W) with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, is finding ways to improve oral health in Indigenous communities.

Loeb has been involved in the Métis and Indigenous community for four years now. While he was in U of W, he worked with Indigenous Services Canada, travelling to more than 16 isolated and fly-in Manitoba communities.

When working at St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill First Nation, he noticed there was a lot of dental decay within the community.

“People my age already had a lot of their teeth fallen out, and I am only 24 years old,” said Loeb on Monday.

“I saw Elders with only one or two teeth and children who had rapid dental decay. You could visibly see the decay and the systemic issues that were going on, such as food security and the lack of sanitation.”

From then, he started noticing the same dental issues happening in other Indigenous communities and learned about the adverse effects of dental issues on daily life.

Loeb is currently studying dentistry at the University of Manitoba (U of M). He expects to finish his degree in 2024 and hopes to work with other healthcare professionals to provide holistic care as well as to advocate for the underlying social issues which lead to dental issues.

“Oral health is something that is often overlooked but is linked to various health conditions, and oral health diseases are extremely prevalent in the Indigenous community,” he said.

“These issues undoubtedly impact the quality of life for our people. As a dentist, I will have the ability to advocate for my patients and better oral health in the Indigenous community,” he added.

Several Elders had told Loeb that although these dental issues severely impact their daily lives, dental care is one of their least thought about concerns in the community.

“Dental care and dental health were really low on their radar because if you have other issues you are dealing with, it really isn’t on the top of your priority list, which is understandable. That is why I want to work with other healthcare professionals to bridge that gap,” said Loeb.

Loeb sees a need for proactive dental care in Indigenous communities and wants to further understand the Indigenous aspect of health care and merge it with Western practices.

“I do think that every Canadian would be a lot more understanding and empathetic of the systemic issues that are faced by the Indigenous community if they had the opportunity to see some of these communities,” said Loeb.

Loeb is currently a mentor with Ongomiizwin Health Services at the U of M where he talks and helps other Indigenous students navigate the process of applying to dentistry.

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Last year, Loeb worked with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba on research looking at early childhood tooth decay in Indigenous communities and comparing the data with non-Indigenous communities.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

TORONTO STAR