By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Dr. Robert Kyle, the Commissioner and Medical Officer of Health for Durham Region, is pushing for a publicly-funded oral health program for low-income adults and older adults, as promised by Premier Doug Ford during the recent provincial election.
Kyle hopes to adopt a version of the program that was proposed in a letter from regional chair Gary Carr of Halton Region to Deputy Premier Christine Elliot, also the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.
In a report to the regional council, Kyle wrote that “the correspondence [between Halton Region and Elliot] highlights the impact that oral health [has] on quality of life, including physical, mental and social well-being and on costs to the healthcare system.”
Halton isn’t the only municipality in Ontario hoping to provide free oral health care to low-income adults and seniors. Dr. Patricia Abbey, the director of oral health for the Durham Region Health Department, says that Toronto, Halton, Peel and Ottawa all have programing aimed at lower income adults and seniors.
She also believes that this is the right step for Durham.
“Those of us in the dental public health community have been advocating for an adult program for years. We are certainly happy that this issue has arrived on the radar screen of the province and hopefully we will see something in the not too distant future,” Abbey said in an e-mail to The Oshawa Express.
Abbey points out “there is a significant degree of inequity when it comes to oral health. Access to care is limited for lower income people and older people. Dental diseases such as decay, periodontal disease and oral cancers are preventable, cumulative and easier and less expensive to treat in their earlier stages.”
Abbey says that this is an important issue because approximately one-third of all adults in Canada have no dental insurance. Along with that approximately 13.9 per cent of all adults are low income. Of those who are low income and seniors, 50 per cent have no dental insurance.
Abbey also points out that oral health issues can be related to other health problems as well.
“Periodontal disease is related to the ability of diabetic adults to manage their disease. Diabetes makes maintenance of oral health harder due to the impact on a person’s ability to manage their disease.”
According to Abbey, more than 60,000 adults in Ontario went to the emergency room (ER) in 2015 to seek help for oral health issues simply because they couldn’t afford to go to the dentist.
“Most ERs do not have dentists,” says Abbey. “So no definitive treatment is provided. The problem will return.”
“I guess I am hopeful that the province will do something to assist lower income and older adults so that they do not have to live in pain or have undiagnosed and untreated problems,” she adds.