By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
The province is adding their resources to the fight for better dental health in Durham.
The Durham Region health department is set to get $1.6 million from the provincial government as part of the new senior dental care plan.
The new plan was announced by the province in April, and is a dental program aiming to improve access to dental care for low-income seniors in Ontario.
With the $1.6 million, the health department wants to provide free dental care to low-income seniors 65-years or older. Seniors would have access to the services at the health department’s oral health clinic, currently located at 1615 Dundas Street East.
According to Pat Abbey, director of oral health in Durham, 25 per cent of seniors haven’t seen a dentist in five years.
She adds 96 per cent of these seniors have had dental decay, and two-thirds have no access to dental insurance.
Speaking to the region’s health and social services committee, Abbey said single seniors must have an income of $19,300 or less to qualify. If they are part of a couple, it is $32,300 or less.
She added there is no criteria to meet in terms of dental health, and every senior who meets the qualifications is eligible.
Abbey told the committee the province “hasn’t been too definitive” on when the plan will begin.
But, she expects the new program to have a soft launch in November, and be fully up and running in January 2020.
She said while they currently have a total of four dental rooms at the oral health clinic, she anticipates a need for seven.
Abbey also noted there will be a need for nine new staff, including room for future growth.
The new staff will include two new dentists and hygienists, three dental assistants and more.
There is also a need for new space due to the new staff and demand. She told the committee the options are to renovate the current location, or to build a new home for the clinic.
The approximate cost will be between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, according to Abbey.
The health department is currently looking at new sites in Oshawa to boost client access, and trying to make us of existing regional infrastructure.
Oshawa’s Ward 3 city and regional councillor Bob Chapman expressed some concern over the ability to meet the program’s proposed timelines.
“If you don’t have enough room now, I’m just curious how you’re going to start in January?” he asked.
Abbey responded by pointing the health department is diligently planning ahead.
“We know we have a demand,” she said, adding there is already a waiting list of 130 patients.
She further explained they are planning to institute evening hours beginning in January.
Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter asked if there has been any discussion with seniors centres around the region, and also if there is a plan to make the program mobile, thus bringing it directly to patients.
Abbey said they are creating an inventory of seniors groups in the region, and have also done clinics at schools.
“So we can do mobile preventive care,” she said.