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Roving dental hygienist pedals, peddling smiles

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Cindy B. McQueen’s covered wagon was parked at Market Square in downtown Kingston, Ontario, on the Saturday of Victoria Day weekend gaining the attention of passersby. They stopped to briefly gaze at it and if they were with someone, made a brief comment.

Maybe they were surprised to see the rig parked. Its owner is usually on the move.

Ms. McQueen rides a bike with a smile and is in the business of improving the smiles of others. She is a roving, independent dental hygienist.

She agreed to meet up with A Guy on a Bike, who, after taking Horne’s Ferry from Cape Vincent to Wolfe Island, rode across the island to take the free ferry to Kingston. On this day the river was glass-flat, offering vistas with loons and other wildlife, and on this side of Wolfe Island near the ferry dock, loads of lunkers swimming lazily.

In Kingston at Coffeco Espresso Bar on Market Square, Ms. McQueen explained how she linked a love of cycling to her profession.

“When my business started (in 2011), I was in my car,’ Ms. McQueen, 53, said over her foamy Earl Grey tea with milk. “I was frantically trying to figure out, ‘How am I going to get on my bike?’”

Ms. McQueen, who has been a registered dental hygienist since 1989, grew up on a farm between Kingston and Picton, which is about 40 miles directly west of Kingston in Prince Edward County. She has cycled since a child and has numerous bikes, including her trusty Trek hybrid that pulls her dental rig, a road bike and a 1956 Raleigh Robin Hood three-speed.

After doing some research on trailers, Ms. McQueen took to her bike in April for her mobile practice. Reaction has been very positive, she said, and she has been told by others that she has inspired them to get back on their bikes.

“People wave and they talk,” she said. “I’ve had people call me about the trailer, asking where I got it and how much was it?”

Her trailer was manufactured by Wike Bicycle Trailers, out of Guelph, Ontario. (Company motto: “Better Than a Pick-Up Truck”). The Wike Pioneer model, with 20-inch alloy rims, carrying capacity of 150 pounds and reflective back panel, is designed for landscapers and food delivery. It sells for about $600.

In it, Ms. McQueen has the tools of her trade, including a portable dental chair — which when fully deployed, looks like a high-tech chaise lounge — and a compressor used to power her dental devices. If packed correctly, the trailer is not hard to pull.

“If you put the load in the back, it’s going to tip on you,” Ms. McQueen said. “I tend to be in the ‘granny gears’ a lot. But I’ve never had to stop.”

She still uses a car when traveling several miles outside of Kingston. She said she’s the only mobile dental hygienist in the Kingston area. Her patients are mainly elderly people in group homes. Many of her patients ask to see her bike rig.

“I think the supervisors already know that I’m mandated by a license and I can’t just throw equipment in and show up,” she said. “They know that I’m very well monitored.”

Ms. McQueen added that Kingston-area dentists also are supportive.

“I’m the only one in the city who sees people who can’t get to a traditional dentist,” she said. “So for them, it’s fabulous. If they’ve had a client for 20 years and suddenly they can’t get to the dentist, they have a place to refer them.”

Previously, patients in group homes who needed dental care had to make the trip to a dentist, which in many cases posed a formidable challenge.

“It was hard enough trying to transport an Alzheimer’s patient, for example,” Ms. McQueen said. “By the time they got them in the chair, they weren’t cooperative.”

In the patients’ own environment, Ms. McQueen said, they are much calmer.

Besides cleaning, Ms. McQueen provides fluoride treatment, desensitizing, topical freezing, head and neck examinations and home care instruction. The most common issues she sees in elderly patients are gum disease and root decay. She said good daily oral care and access to regular professional dental care can bridge the gap between oral health and oral disease.

Ms. McQueen often goes to Wolfe Island, where she usually sees elderly clients in Marysville.

“I live about 10 minutes from the dock,” she said. “It’s probably less kilometers than some of the other places I’ve gone.”

Ms. McQueen said that she’s found that cyclists in Kingston have the respect of motorists.

“The majority of people are really great,” she said. “They give me wide berth. But I think they do that to all cyclists. Kingston has a sustainable structure of bike lanes.”

That structure may be boosted. The city of Kingston is inviting public comment about whether to include dedicated cycling lanes on the Williamsville Main Street as part of the redevelopment of the area. The Williamsville Main Street is the 1.7 kilometer (about 1 mile) stretch of Princess Street between Division Street and Bath Road/Concession Street.

“Even out in our townships, there are designated lanes,” said Ms. McQueen.

But something lacking, she said, are “bike boxes” at intersections. Such boxes were pioneered in Portland, Ore. It is a painted green box in a lane on the road with a bicycle symbol inside. Cars stop behind the box and bicycles park inside it becoming more visible to motorists behind them. The box is designed to prevent car/bicycle collisions, especially those between drivers turning right and cyclists going straight.

“We need to work toward (adding) those because in a lot of communities, cyclists have to go through some really big intersections,” Ms. McQueen said.

Kingston is dotted with permanent and seasonal bicycle racks. Bike shops offer rentals and a cycling map of Kingston can be downloaded at http://tinyurl.com/nd9ba9l

As she prepared to leave Coffeco to meet a relative at the weekly market on the square, Ms. McQueen was asked what she enjoyed most about her job, besides getting paid to ride her bike.

“It’s the people I see who wouldn’t have access, on their own terms, otherwise,” she said. “Any day, in any of the people I see, it’s just a really good visit. It’s good for them, they feel better and the family feels better.”

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If you have a suggested ride/column idea for A Guy on a Bike, contact Times features writer Chris Brock at cbrock@wdt.net, or write to him at the Watertown Daily Times, 260 Washington St., Watertown, NY 13601.

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