A church basement was transformed into a make-shift dentist's office on Saturday, as dental hygienists are raising awareness about the services they can provide, increasing access to oral care.

The Gift from the Heart event was a charity tooth cleaning operation at St. Patrick of the Island Church in Ile Perrot, where about a dozen migrant workers and Ukrainian refugees got their teeth cleaned, their oral health screened and had fillings put in.

"Quebec is very new [to this]. We just got independent hygienists for the first time in 2020," said independent dental hygienist Tayyaba Fiaz.

Two years ago, the Quebec government started allowing dental hygienists to operate independently of a dentist's office.

Currently, there are about 70 independent hygienists.

They are allowed to be mobile and can carry out preventative dental treatments in a covered ambulance like the one used on Saturday.

"No need to wait for lines or appointments; we can go to them," said Fiaz. "We can alleviate the wait times, and there's no need to go to the waiting rooms."

Hygienists say much of the public doesn't fully understand what they do since, historically, their work is folded into the exams and procedures done at a dentist's office.

"It's about awareness. We need to raise awareness about the role of the dental hygenist," said Gift from the Heart vice-president Laura Iorio. "We're about prevention, not about reparation after the disease."

Fiaz is pushing Quebec to create a subsidy for dental hygiene treatment in children, and the charity's founder is hoping to convert another dental ambulance for use in Quebec.

"This is what needs to happen here," said Gift from the Heart founder Bev Woods. "They need to have a facility that can reach the people. That's the biggest thing lacking -- is access to care."