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Oral health needs to be a priority

When it comes to oral heath in Ontario, the numbers are troubling, especially when the potential consequences are taken into consideration.

According to the College of Dental Hygienists, between two- and three-million Ontario residents did not see a dentist in the past year, mainly due to the high cost and the lack of assistance to pay for it. Dental care is not covered under OHIP.

However, the issue is compounded when it comes to those in society who are more vulnerable because of economics, like the poor and seniors on fixed incomes. The Ontario government offers an array of dental programs for low-income children: The Healthy Smiles program helps more than 460,000 kids get access to free dental checkups, fillings and x-rays.

Yet, when it comes to the other end of the age spectrum, our seniors are left to fend for themselves, and paying for expensive dental care can be tough for those who are retired, without any dental benefits and on fixed incomes. The plight of Marilyn Curtis, detailed within this issue of The Oshawa Express Newspaper, is only one of many stories found in Durham Region and around the province.

According to data, Durham Region’s health department receives approximately 80 inquiries each month from seniors and low-income adults who are looking for help accessing dental care. That’s a lot of people looking for help.

The sad reality, though, is that many in the province are simply going without, and not taking care of our teeth and mouth can have dire consequences. Many times, this lack of care lands people in Ontario’s already strapped emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.

The Association of Ontario Health Centres estimates that in 2014 there were approximately 61,000 emergency-room visits and 222,000 visits to physician’s offices due to issues with oral health, adding a $38-million burden to the province’s health-care system.

It’s clear that the provincial government needs to step up and make some changes. One clear solution would be to increase the dollars provided to the regional health departments so they can set up a program similar to what is offered in Northumberland County, which provides a subsidized program for seniors.

With that said, this isn’t the first time that advocates have called for such programs to be created. It’s why many areas are trying to take matters into their own hands and fund their own programs.

But with a provincial election around the corner, now is the time to bite down and make those in power realize that keeping a healthy set of teeth is important for everyone, regardless of age. It makes good economic sense for the government to help its citizens with some form of dental-care assistance.