Health providers call for better access to dental care for Ontario’s vulnerable adults and seniors

Written by admin, April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017 –  The lack of affordable dental care in the province was the main agenda item as more than 60 representatives from across Ontario met today to call for government investment in publicly funded oral health care for adults and seniors living on low incomes.

At the annual symposium of the Ontario Oral Health Alliance, participants heard that between two and three million people in Ontario do not go to a dentist, mainly due to high costs of private dentistry.

Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Medical Officer of Health for Peterborough Public Health who presented at the symposium, noted that dental cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases, yet OHIP does not cover oral health care.

“Oral health is an important component of overall health and wellbeing. As a Public Health Specialist, I can attest to the link between poor oral health and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. We are doing our best to ensure that no child goes without treatment, but we have a problem if up to three million people in Ontario don’t have access to basic dental care services due to cost.”

“We have seen investments in publicly funded infrastructure to deliver oral health care to vulnerable Ontarians but we need to do better,” said Dr. Salvaterra. “By supporting municipalities to invest in fluoridation of their drinking water, we can prevent 30% of dental decay across all ages. Better prevention would allow us to reinvest savings into treating those who aren’t able to afford the cost of dental care.”

Ontario has a public dental program, Healthy Smiles Ontario, for children and youth under 18 years of age in very low income families. There’s also a patchwork of basic dental programs for people receiving social assistance. There are no public dental health programs for low income adults and seniors.

Local research has found that 43% of people in Peterborough City and County say that cost is a barrier to receiving dental treatment. The Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network set up a Dental Treatment Assistance Fund in 2007 to help low-income adults and seniors get emergency dental care.

“We wouldn’t expect people with broken limbs to rely on volunteer doctors. So it’s frustrating for people with dental pain and infection to have to rely on charity to fund emergency dental care,” said Brenda Dales, Executive Director of the Peterborough Social Planning Council. “We need the provincial government to put some money where our mouths are – by investing in public dental programs for the adults and seniors in our communities living on low and fixed incomes so that we can all have healthy mouths.”

“Ontario must do better,” said Anna Rusak, Coordinator of the Ontario Oral Health Alliance. “We’re calling on the provincial government to fast-track the promise to extend public dental programs to low-income adults and seniors by 2025, and deliver the program in Community Health Centres, Aboriginal Health Access Centres, and Public Health Units where many vulnerable people already access health and social services.”

Research shows that most people living on low income prefer to be treated in public dental clinics where they are welcomed and don’t experience stigma. Many private dentists refuse to accept people on social assistance and are frustrated when people cannot pay or miss appointments.

To learn more about some of innovative examples of public dental programs that are meeting the needs of vulnerable children and adults at the Port Hope Community Health Centre, as well as local advocacy efforts to expand services in Woodstock, Niagara Region, and Peel, contact us today.

The Ontario Oral Health Symposium was co-hosted by the Ontario Oral Health Alliance and Peterborough Public Health.



To arrange an interview with anyone quoted in this release, or to find out more information about oral health campaigns in your community, please contact:

Jason Rehel, 416-817-9518