Health unit advocates expanding publicly funded dental care
By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 2, 2017
The Ontario Oral Health Alliance is asking the province to expand publicly funded dental care to include adults and seniors on low incomes.
Anna Rusak, a health promoter with the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, visited Haliburton County councillors during an Oct. 25 meeting.
“In Canada, a person can walk into a hospital emergency room and get treatment for an infection in every other part of their body, except for the mouth,” Rusak said. “And this is because our health-care system does not cover the cost of dental care.”
According to a 2014 report called Improving Access to Oral Health Care for Vulnerable People Living in Canada, 17 per cent of Canadians, or roughly six million people, avoid going to the dentist because of the cost.
“And those who have the greatest need for dental treatment for dental treatment also have the hardest time accessing the care that they need,” Rusak said. “And the mostly private model of dental care in Canada isn’t working for everyone and the problem is only getting worse, with middle-income groups being affected and not being able to afford care, as employer benefits decrease, and as people lose their benefits as they retire and as the senior population increases. And this is especially a problem in communities like this one, in Haliburton County, where 32.9 per cent of our population is over the age of 65, versus the provincial average, which is 16.7 per cent.”
There is some publicly funded dental care happening within the province, and within the county.
Provincially, the Healthy Smiles Ontario provides care for children 17 and younger who come from low-income families.
“That is one program that is working quite well in our province, and I am confident to say there shouldn’t be a child left untreated at this point, in Ontario,” Rusak said.
Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program also provide some basic dental care, although as Rusak pointed out, this is mostly to get residents out of pain and typically does not include services such as the provision of dentures.
In Haliburton County, the Volunteer Dental Outreach Clinic also provides free dental care to those in urgent need who cannot afford dental services.
“Not everyone in need of dental care in the county has access to these services, that relies on donations and volunteers,” Rusak said.
The federal government also provides dental programs for Indigenous people, veterans and refugees.
Rusak said the alliance has met with the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP on a number of occasions, and has presented her with signed petitions, which she has tabled in Queen’s Park.
“This was part of an Ontario Oral Health Alliance campaign asking the government to expand dental programs to more people,” Rusak.
It is estimated that every nine minutes, someone goes to an Ontario hospital with a dental problem, costing the health care system an estimated average cost of $513 per visit.
In 2015, there were 210 dental-related emergency room visits in Haliburton County, equating to an expenditure of some $108,000.
“And this was not for dental treatment, but rather, for a prescription for an antibiotic or the offering of a painkiller, which, according to a Toronto emergency doctor, may be a contributing factor in the current opioid crisis,” Rusak said.
She added the information she was presenting has been presented to dozens of MPPs across the province.
“We not asking the government for new money, at first, just to start by redirecting the existing money being spent to pay for, at the very least, a preventative dental program, which would help reduce dental programs, thus saving money in the long run,” she said.