03/26/2015 06:54 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Pro-bono dental clinic helps low-income children on Vancouver Island

Having the right oral care can change a child's life.

Former Saanich, B.C. district principal Heather Burkett knows, because she remembers vividly a student with behavioural problems who refused to speak.

"He grunted all the time," Burkett told On The Island's Gregor Craigie.

"It took a while for the staff to get him to even open his mouth, and when he did, they realized his mouth was black."

Burkett said she ended up contacting a retiring dentist, who helped the child pro bono. The child's life "changed completely," and he became a model student, said Burkett.

That experience, and the belief that all children should have a right to oral care, has led Burkett and a colleague to start a new non-profit dental clinic in Sidney, where under-19s who come from low-income families can either access dental care for free or at 30 per cent less than the average rate.

The Oral Care for Children and Adolescents Dental Clinic, located at Sidney Elementary School, had its grand opening on Thursday. The staff consist of volunteer dentists and hygienists, and one paid administrator.

To hear the full interview with Heather Burkett, listen to the audio labelled: Non-profit dental clinic for low-income youth opens.