Vote with your teeth, says local health promoter

By Lindsay Advocate

We have a public dental program for eligible children aged 17 and under and a program for eligible low-income seniors aged 65 and over.

By Anna Rusak, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.

The next Ontario general election is coming up and the time to advocate for better access to dental care is now.

Oral health is an important part of one’s overall health and wellness, yet every year an estimated 3 million people in Ontario do not visit a dental office because they simply cannot afford it.

We have a public dental program for eligible children aged 17 and under and a program for eligible low-income seniors aged 65 and over. There is a patchwork of inadequate programs for adults on social assistance, but no public oral health program for adults who cannot afford to pay out of pocket for dental care.

As a result of the lack of public dental programs for adults and those ineligible for the sparse dental care programs currently offered:

  • Every 9 minutes someone in Ontario goes to an emergency room (ER) because of dental pain. Hospitals are not equipped to deal with dental problems or provide proper treatment and can only give individual painkillers or a prescription for antibiotics. In 2017, the estimated cost for dental related visits to an emergency room in Ontario was a minimum of 31 million dollars.
  • Every 3 minutes someone goes to a doctor’s office in Ontario because of dental issues. Yet, like hospitals, physicians are not equipped or trained to deal with diseases impacting teeth and gums. These trips, resulting in no effective treatment provided, cost OHIP approximately 7.5 million dollars in 2014.
  • Every year, lack of access to proper dental care costs Ontarian taxpayers an estimated 38 million dollars.

This data was collected and published by the Ontario Oral Health Alliance.

The need to expand public dental programs is without question. Offering affordable dental care will prevent avoidable trips to the ER and the doctor’s office. Instead, the Ontario Oral Health Alliance recommends redirecting these tax-dollars towards investing in Community Health Centres, Indigenous Health Centres and public health units – all of which serve vulnerable populations.

Lack of access to dental care seriously impacts vulnerable Ontarians, including low-income children, adults, and seniors. According to Statistica, as of March 2021, over 1.2 million Ontarians were considered persons in low-income families.

If Canada is to live up to its ‘claim to fame’ in offering “Universal Health Care”, low-come individuals and vulnerable groups in our community must be able to access the oral health services they need, where and when they need it, without financial hardship.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that investing in a more resilient, truly universal healthcare system is essential. An election is the perfect time to make our values as a community clear.

As we approach the 2022 provincial election, ask candidates – what steps will their party take to fill the gap in access to dental care?

1 Comment

  1. Anne Carmichael says:

    At almost 68 years my OAS and GIS are almost sorted. Was cut off of GIS from 2019’s last employment before the pandemic; then OAS was cut for their administrative error that lasted half a year. Apparently now, two and a half years later, I got a big refund for errors and oversights and apparent hatred of old people, the newly retired, and the disabled who are kicked from ODSP, dental, vision and medical care, to the abyss of Canada’s federal OAS/GIS welfare system. Despite a work history of 45 years and three pensions, the income still merits GIS. There is something wrong with those calculations. Inflation has cut further into the travesty foisted upon seniors, and may be remedied to a menial degree in another few years with meagre slides up the income cutoff to obtain GIS. In the meantime, $185 for an emergency dental visit, another $135 to determine the need for a root canal, $2,300 for the root canal, another few hundred for the filling, another $1,200 for the crown preparation and crown. All for one tooth. One erroneous bite on a hard rock. A minor accident. But we need teeth to eat, to live, to stay well. Of course I wish I hadn’t eaten a mouthful with a rock masquerading as a nut in it, but such is life. Ironically, I found out about the refund sorting out 2019 and 2020 days ago, the day before the root canal. How wonderful that the money that could have saved me from financial and gastrointestinal struggle these past two years can now be passed on to the rich, dental system. I may even have a few hundred left over to pay some of my visa bills for the groceries I’ve eaten during this time. This is not good medical care. We are relieved and grateful of our medical system compared to the USA; but when did our mouths and teeth, the vital organs that help us to survive, were no longer considered body parts or medical needs? This insanity has got to stop. Get dental care covered in the MEDICAL SYSTEM. We all might be able to afford to live if we didn’t have surprise, unfortunate, costly dental bills to ruin us financially. Ignoring our dental care to survive financially only leads to other long term medical problems down the road. Let’s bring some real change to our medical system and let people who earn under 35,000 a year without benefits have the necessary dental care they need, as with ODSP. It’s simple as that.

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