In a postal code where many residents haven't seen a dentist in decades, a new pilot dentistry program will provide a lifeline to primary care for Vancouver's neediest citizens.

The one-chair dental clinic, launched as a partnership between the UBC School of Dentistry and First United Church, will start operating at the church in the Downtown Eastside in the New Year.

The clinic isn't about building the perfect smile -- it's about providing pain management and infection control to people who are living their lives in a great deal of pain.

Associate Dean Dr. Chris Zed said some of the conditions they see are potentially life-threatening. In some cases, the pain is so intense the person loses the ability to focus, even to chew.

"Those kinds of infections are some you'd see in third-world countries, so when you have those in your own community in Vancouver it's very shocking," Zed told CTV News.

Zed says residents in underserved communities like the Downtown Eastside often suffer from "gross" amounts of tooth decay.

"This community needs focus on pain and infection management," Zed said.

For one day a week, UBC resident dentists will work at the clinic while also mentoring younger students. The pilot project has been made possible by an anonymous donation from a Vancouver resident and it's hoped the program will expand if more money comes down the pipeline.

Delanie, who has lived in the First United Church for almost three years, said it's unlikely she'd ever have dentistry work done without the facility.

She said her teeth were perfect until her 20s, but she hasn't had the means or opportunity to fix the ones she's lost over the years. She equates her tooth loss with a drop in her self esteem. She says it's something that's felt by many of her peers.

"I remember how confident I felt," she said. "That's been a real problem with me when I think about what needs to be done – so I'm thankful. Your teeth are everything."

Zed insists it isn't just the patrons that will benefit, saying the experience is enriching for students and veteran dentists alike.

"It does feel extra special to relieve that pain and know that they're probably leaving your office and going back on the street, where most of them live, and know that they're going to have a life that's a little bit more normal than the day before. But pain free this time."