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 three 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 nine 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 three 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, more than 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 income 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?
Submitted by Anna Rusak, Health Promoter
HKPR District Health Unit